If you follow me on Facebook you’ve read many of my tales of the poker table. I used to even write some of them for this blog. It was only six months ago I got to live the dream and play in the WSOP which got an extensive post here. I also spent a year of my life dealing cards in a casino, so when a gambling story gains enough traction it’s covered by mainstream media outlets, I feel a responsibility to answer some questions on it and provide what context I can. With that in mind, let’s talk about Phil Ivey, edge sorting, baccarat, and what happens when you take a casino to court.
If you were to make a list of the top poker players of today, Phil Ivey could easily hold the number one spot. He won his first WSOP bracelet at 23 and has won nine more since then. He has lifetime tournament winnings topping $23.4 million spread out over multiple varieties of poker. I tell you all of this not because this story has anything to do with poker but because you need to understand that Phil Ivey is a man who understands odds, cards, and gambling at a level few others on this planet do.
This story actually has to do with a game called baccarat. This is one of the games that I was certified to deal when I worked for Prairie Meadows. There are only three things you really need to know about the game: the sixes through nines are extremely important, this is a game popular with high rollers, and because of that fact, this is a game with a great deal of superstition around it. To demonstrate that last point, please take a look at this:
Players will keep these cards to track the results of the various hands. Think of it like writing down the results of a roulette wheel to try to predict the next number, but with cards instead of a ball. I can assure you though, it’s equally as inaccurate. You could track one hundred flips of a single coin but that still won’t help you figure out if the next flip is heads or tails. Players take these cards quite seriously, and to give a personal anecdote, I watched a player track results for 8 decks worth of cards and then place a single thousand dollar bet. It takes around 45 minutes to an hour to deal through 8 decks, and through the rest of it the player would just sit and observe. He did this for the entire eight hour shift I worked that night and he was still going when I went home.
Phil Ivey, along with another woman, won $9.6 million over several months playing baccarat at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City. A court just recently ordered them to give all the money back saying they cheated. How did they do it? The woman had identified a flaw in the design of a certain brand of trusted playing cards, they weren’t perfectly symmetrical. Phil Ivey had a reputation as a high roller in this casino known as a poker hot spot and was able to talk the casino into a baccarat game with several stipulations. Again though, weird stipulations from high rollers with this game is not unusual.
One of them was to use this particular brand of playing card, another was that a shuffling machine be used, and the most important was that as the cards were being sorted that the sixes through nines be rotated 180 degrees compared to the rest of the deck. The shuffling machine is great at rearranging cards, but it doesn’t rotate them like a hand shuffle and wash would do. Owing to the flaw in the backs of the cards, this setup allowed the players advanced knowledge of where the key cards would appear before they were flipped over which allowed the pair to beat the house and walk out big winners. This technique has been dubbed ‘edge sorting’. A district court has ruled that this was fraud and that all the money is to be returned to the casino. If you want to read the judge’s opinion in full you can find it here. At least the judge did agree that the comped value of food and rooms doesn’t have to be repaid.
There are two other recent cases I’d like to compare to this one. The first happens to be from my former employer, Prairie Meadows in 2010. A man won a slots jackpot of $9,387. Winnings of that much demand a W-2 be issued, but upon getting the player’s information, it was revealed he’d been banned from the casino for vandalizing a machine several years prior. The casino denied the payout on the grounds that the man was trespassing, the man sued, and the court ruled that the casino was within their rights to withhold the jackpot.
I’ve been trying for a while now, but can’t dig up a citation for this other story, so my apologies on this one. It was a British man sometime around 2008 who had voluntarily signed a self-trespass waiver for a casino. These are a last resort for some gamblers who have trouble breaking the addiction. The man violated the waiver, but wasn’t discovered by the casino. He lost a large sum of money then sued the casino for it back saying the casino should have noticed he was there and thrown him out. The court once again sided with the casino.
Please note, I am in no way a lawyer and I don’t even regularly play bar trivia with one anymore, but there is an obvious difference to me in these cases. In the last two, the player did something wrong that the casino didn’t agree to. Phil Ivey made his demands quite clear and the casino accepted the terms. They never touched or rearranged the cards themselves. They asked the casino, and given the amount of money at stake, it’s not like this was just a minimum wage dealer shrugging their shoulders. This went up several layers of management, had multiple sets of eyes on it, and they all gave it the OK. Ivey’s lawyer has said that the decision will be appealed and I hope another judge will agree that sitting down at a game as the favorite isn’t a right reserved only for the house.
Gambling is one of those things we expect the heroes of our stories to succeed at just like they succeed at everything else. This has led to it being included in and even the focus of numerous books and movies from classics like Cool Hand Luke, where the title comes from a poker hand, to modern remakes like Casino Royale, a movie with Texas Hold’em at its core but based on a book that used Baccarat instead. Unfortunately, either due to lazy writing or the real thing not being dramatic in the right way, poker is often misrepresented. No one likes a favorite hobby of theirs treated in such a way, so with that in mind here are the three things I see media get wrong most frequently.
Bet vs Raise vs Re-raise
These are three terms that mean different things and shouldn’t be used interchangeably. The first time during a betting round that money is put into the pot, that’s a bet. If someone wants to increase the amount of money being played for after the initial bet, that’s a raise, and if someone wants to increase it beyond that it’s a re-raise. This graphic should help.
It doesn’t have to be different people though. If no money had been put in yet, player 1 would bet, player 2 could raise, player 1 could then re-raise, and then they could go back and forth re-raising for almost however long they wanted, which brings us to the second thing.
Since I brought up Casino Royale earlier, I’m going to use this scene to highlight an important poker rule this scene actually tries to get right.
So what are table stakes? It means you can’t win or lose more than you have on the table at the start of a hand. The villain in the above clip can’t pull out his checkbook to bet more with the hand almost done. He also can’t bet the car, but it’s a Bond movie, and I do appreciate the dealer trying to stop them. Sometimes you’ll see this in really old westerns where our hero has to suddenly put their farm on the line in order to call a bet. In reality you just call and if the villain has bet more than you have, then the villain’s bet is reduced to match the amount of money you have left.
The other side of this is that you can’t win more than you have in front of you either. If you have $100 at the start of a hand and you’re playing someone who has $500, the most you can win from them is an additional $100. If there are more people than just the one other player in the hand you can win $100 from each other person. This should come up at the very end of Casino Royale when we see Bond rebuy after getting knocked out. For Bond to win on the final hand of the movie he would have had to quadruple his stack sometime off camera in order for him to have the villain covered and win all the chips in that final all in.
“I see your wager, and I,” nope stop you’re done. Once you say call or push chips into the middle equaling the bet then that’s the end of your action. This is to prevent someone from trying to get an extra read on an opponent by dragging out a call, looking for weakness, and then deciding they want to raise to put additional pressure on. It should also be noted that verbal commitments are binding at the table, so as soon as the word call leaves your lips, that’s all you can do. Now if you say raise, then you can push out the chips that would be a call by themselves because you’ve committed to the raise. The important part is that a bet must be made all at one time. You can’t say “I see your wager and I’ll raise you X,” you can’t push out a stack to call and then push out a stack to raise. Either say exactly what you want to do, or do exactly what you want to do. If you try to string bet in a casino, any dealer should declare your action a call and return any chips you tried to raise with back to you.
Poker has enough dramatic happenings without needing to embellish any. This list certainly doesn’t cover all the minor things that frequently get characterized incorrectly about the game, but they’re certainly the most frequent offenders and now you should be able to pick them out when you see them and know how the hand would play out if it was in a casino instead of on a sound stage.
This post might be a little choppy, but I’m going to try to not write a novel about the three days in Vegas I’ll remember for years to come.
t-minus 18 hours until WSOP: My flight arrives in Las Vegas on time and I’m met by a friend of a friend who takes me to an incredible ramen shop where we chat about life, the Air Force, and the city.
t-mins 16 hours until WSOP: I get dropped off at the Rio and become one of many late 20s-early 30s men who think they’re good enough to be there and are going to show it by wearing sandles, khaki shorts, a t-shirt, and headphones while nonchalantly pretending they know their way around the gigantic casino. I had no idea I apparently dress like a poker player, that has to be a good sign right? The hallway to where the tables are is lined with portraits of the greats new(Ivey and Negraneu) and old(Unger and Brunson). I’m back to feeling like a rank and file amateur.
The room itself is gigantic, literally several hundred poker tables, most of which with games going on. I take a moment to drink it in and take a long look at a $175 fixed limit sit’n’go table, but sleep is more valuable to me at this point then squeezing in any more hands. I find the registration cages and line up behind someone speaking Russian quite quickly into their phone and I enjoy being reminded of just how international this event is. We come from different places all to play the same game.
I get my ticket and head across the street to the Gold Coast where I check into my room and try to convince my brain it can sleep. The time zone change helps a bit, but I still only manage around five hours.
t-minus 8 hours: I wake up, eat breakfast, shower, do yoga, and chat with friends online about not poker. You know that scene in the movie Ratatouille where the critic is coming so the main character gets up and stumbles through a really terrible pep talk? That’s essentially where my head was at.
t-minus 1 hour: I head across the street to the Rio. I scope out my table and go sit in the seats surrounding the ESPN featured table stage. It’s the final table of the Millionaire Maker event and serves as a good distraction. I’m really enjoying the atmosphere of the room and I feel like I made a great decision in coming, which is good since there’s no going back now.
Hour 1(7,500 chips to start the hour): My table only has six people to start with, I’m first in the big blind and get dealt QQ. What a way to start! Even better they hold up and I scoop the first pot of the tournament. I’m amazed so many people late register/show up late to claim their spot. It’s good for a couple reasons. I play 6 handed online all the time, so I’m perfectly comfortable, and the fact that so many other people are being so casual about the event is helping me not psyche myself out over the fact that I’ve been waiting over a decade to get to this table. I’m amazed how calm I really am. Once the cards started flying there was no more anticipation to get in the way of things. The rest of the hour goes well for me and slowly but surely our table fills up.
Hour 2(9,250 chips): I continue to catch great cards and my reads are starting to firm up. The guy to my right is raising too much especially post flop. The guy to my left seems pretty solid, there are two players at the far end who are way too tight, and there’s another player who is playing suited cards like he’s going to hit the flush every time. Conversation starts up between three of them and it seems like they know each other from a regular 30/60 game in LA. Lovely, their normal game is three times richer than the highest stakes I’ve played in my life. This would discourage me, but the way I keep taking down pots from them it’s telling me I really do belong.
Hour 3(16,675 chips): Not much to report from hour three. I take a couple hits, and the guy to my left wins multiple big pots, he’s loosening up what I would call too much though, so I’m hoping I can exploit that later.
Hour 4(17,625 chips): Got a little sloppy in trying to exploit some aggressive players that just got seated at our table and ended up calling too lightly on back to back hands costing me around 1/3 of my stack. I salvage things by getting my first knockout of the tournament on the last hand of the level. I bet preflop with AQ and the big blind, who is severely short stacked, raises me. I reraise since I know his whole stack is going in the middle anyway. He shows A5. A queen comes on the flop to make it even more grim, and a queen hits the turn to give me the win. Did I just knock someone out of a WSOP event? Holy shit!
Hour 5(14,525 chips): Fold mostly and sit back while trying to stay focused. A guy gets his AA cracked by 37 making a straight and handles it better than I would have. Watched another player hit a two outer king on the river to eliminate another player from our table who also handles it pretty well all things considered. After that player left the table the guy who caught the king jokes, “I really pulled a Curry and dunked on him there,” Several of us chime in that Curry isn’t really a dunker, and someone else jokes that he played a Draymond Green. The whole table laughs and even the dealer cracks a smile. The day before Green had gotten suspended for the next NBA finals game for hitting another player in the groin. Your opponent hitting a two outer on you on the river feels close enough to a punch in the nuts that it seemed quite appropriate. Out of the original nine on the table, only four of us are left including the villain to my left who keeps getting richer.
Hour 6(11,600 chips): I win a big pot by turning a flush and feel confident enough to successfully steal the ever increasing blinds a couple times. I knock out another player when my QQ holds up against his 99. I try to knock out a third but my 66 can’t beat his Q5 when a queen hits the turn. Almost double my chip stack during the level though and feel right back on track.
Hour 7(22,075 chips): The buy in window finally closes. Total entries are 665, I’m a little disappointed one more person didn’t join us. I’m amazed to see them announce they’ll pay top 100 places and that there are only 360 remaining. I’ve already outlasted almost half the field and I’m second in chips on my table! I suffer a brief attack of delusions of grandeur before shaking myself out of it and spending another hour mostly folding and missing flops. The table has become increasingly aggressive especially preflop. So aggressive in fact that when I pick up JJ and am first to act, I almost limp because I’m so certain someone else will bet and I can raise, but I play it standard and bet as first to act. It folds around to the big blind who calls me. Flop comes 236, no flush draw. Big blind checks, bet expecting to take it down right there, but big blind calls me. Turn comes 9, big blind checks again. I bet, big blind raises. Looking at my options it’s possible big blind has two pair, but I think it’s more likely he’s holding something like A6 or A9 and thinks I’ve got air, so after pausing for a moment I three bet. Big blind calls to make the pot 11,100. The river is another 9. Big blind checks and I check. At this point I think it’s unlikely he’s going to call me if he has a 2, 3, or 6. He either hit a hand that can beat me or he’s folding. I don’t think there’s any value in betting here. I ask if he has the nine, somewhat sheepishly he says yes and flips 9Q. I’m not going to hide it, that one hurt. He wasn’t drawing dead, but only five cards in the deck help him there and that was a big pot. I can’t believe he floated a Q high on the flop and got rewarded for it, but such is life.
Hour 8(19,125 chips, 315 players, and average stack of 15,833)
Now comes the hand that I’m going to wonder about for a long time. I’m dealt A♡10♡ on the button. It gets raised from middle position by a player who splashed around a lot early, but hasn’t played a hand in a while. I call and both blinds call. Flop is 10♤5♢6♤. Both blinds check and the preflop raiser checks. I have top pair and no draw, but that’s a board with a lot of draw potential, so I have to bet and do so. Everyone calls. Turn is 7♤, possibly the worst card for me. Several straight draws and flush draw are now there. It checks to me again and I think about it, but to bet again would be around 20% of my remaining chips, and I check. River is K♢, both blinds check and the preflop raiser bets. I decide to lay it down because of the chances of him hitting the king or of either blind raising behind me, but both blinds fold and the preflop raiser mucks his cards without showing. I regret my fold almost immediately because I notice how few chips the preflop raiser had left. When someone is close to their all in they’ll raise lighter. I’m kicking myself for folding and for getting fatigued enough that I’m missing details like stack size that I’m normally pretty perceptive of. I needed that pot and I didn’t fight for it the way I probably should have.
Hour 9(13,725 chips, 252 players, and average stack of 19,792) Fatigue is setting in all over the room with the only benefit that it’s hitting all of us. My table finally breaks and for the first time all tournament I’m moved to a new seat. I’m a little upset because I have to get new reads on everyone, but I know with my chip stack I’m really just looking for a hand to make my last stand with pretty soon. The new table has a truly bizarre series of events happen. One of the players is joking about how often a queen is coming on the flop, and it was a lot, but obviously this player was just having fun at a really late hour. The dealer suddenly starts to spread the cards for what’s called a setup, it’s when they change decks. Players will request one for often superstitious reasons, they’ll say a change in the cards will mean a change in the luck. Another player stops the dealer and asks who asked for a setup stating that he objects, the dealer points at the player to my left. I never heard the guy say anything. The guy says he didn’t ask for a setup he just joked the dealer needs to shuffle the cards really well. Since the setup has started though a floor supervisor needs to be called over to stop it. The floor says go back to dealing and after the cards have come out and one player has bet, but before the flop someone notices there are still cards in the dealer’s tray, cards from the deck he just dealt the hand with. Floor is called over again who says to keep dealing the hand. After the hand the floor pulls three cards out of the dealers tray which get shuffled back in and we carry on, but we played a hand with a 49 card deck.
Hour 10(5,400 chips, 198 players, and average stack of 25,189)Things are truly dire. I’ve folded preflop almost every hand at the new table but the blinds are making it in impossible to lay low, so with 30 minutes before the end of the day I catch a hand I know will be my first all-in of the day, A♢Q♢. A loose played in middle position limps, I’m in the small blind and raise, hoping to get the big blind out and play this heads up. Unfortunately big blind calls and we go to the flop with me only having one bet left. Flop is 9A10 with no flush draw. Both myself and the big blind go all in and the middle position calls. I feel good about where I am with my top pair, but middle position flips A10 for top two pair, and big blind flips QJ for an open ended straight draw. With one of my queens in his hand, I know only two queens are left to help me and neither comes. An 8 does hit the river to give the big blind the main pot, but I had more than him, so technically the A10 in middle position is the hand that knocked me out in 180th place. I bid the table good night and stumble back across the street and go to sleep.
Recap There are likely few places more self reflection has been done then on return flights from Las Vegas. I’m sitting here at cruising altitude now, and despite leaving with less money than I brought, I have to put this one in the win column. My goal in going was less about the profit and more about validation. I’ve spent more hours than I should count at a poker table. I love the hobby dearly. I’ve come to convince myself that I’m even above average at it. This week showed me that the time hasn’t been wasted. I sat with some high caliber players on the largest stage poker has to offer and I outlasted over 72% of the field.
A close friend asked if I felt like I’d had enough or if I’d be going back soon. If the opportunity presented itself I wouldn’t mind a return trip to a future WSOP, but I got what I came for. I can go back to my small games in Minnesota and Mississippi not having to wonder if beating those games is meaningless. This
fish winged bullfrog just needed to see if he was only big in his own pond. I wouldn’t have said no to a bracelet, and coming up only 80 spots shy of the money bubble is disappointing in its own way. But that said, I’m happily putting a check mark next to this bucket list item.
As a souvenir I have these two shots from the official WSOP photographer.
Thanks to Minnesota being one of the only states in the country with a gambling age of 18, I’m one week away from having played poker for 10 years. I’m two weeks away from fulfilling a dream I’ve had for that entire 10 years and then some. I’m going to be playing in the World Series of Poker. If I were you I’d expect several poker posts leading up to the event in order to answer some of the questions I’ve been asked about the tournament and to calm my own nerves about how quickly the date is approaching.
To most people the WSOP is just the main event. That’s what gets televised on ESPN and what gives out the biggest cash prize, in 2014 1st place took home 10 million. In reality it’s a full month and a half of the best poker on the planet. It’s 69 events covering all the popular poker variants at buy ins ranging from $500-$100,000 starting 5/31 and going to 7/17. All 50 states and 80 countries had players in the 2015 main event alone. To win an event and earn a WSOP bracelet is an accomplishment recognized in every poker room regardless of stakes or language.
I’m getting slightly ahead of myself though. In all my previous poker posts I’ve discussed cash games which are different than the WSOP tournaments. At a cash game you sit down with however much money you’d like, you play for however long you’d like, the stakes at the table don’t change, if you lose everything you can rebuy, and when you’ve decided you’ve had enough however many chips you have in front of you is the amount of money you walk away with. In a tournament there’s a set buy in ahead of time, you’re given tournament chips which have no cash value and are really just a method of score keeping, the stakes slowly raise as the tournament progresses to force play, when someone is out of chips they’re out of the tournament(there are exceptions to that, but right now I’m not worried about that), and you’re given money at the end based on how long you were able to last against everyone else.
The event I’ll be playing is event #22. It’ll be fixed limit hold’em, which is the style I feel most comfortable with, and the buy in will be $1,500. Looking at last year’s tournament statistics: 660 people entered, the final 72 made money, and first place was $196,055. It takes place over three days starting on the 14th with the first days being ten hours of play each and the final day playing down to a winner no matter how long that may take. The final table, the last 10 players, was broadcast live online last year and will be again this year.
As I said, I’ve had the goal of playing in this event for over a decade, and there’s something inherently dangerous about trying to fulfill a dream that you’ve worked so hard towards. You could fail spectacularly. It’s distinctly possible I could finish last. I could take my shot at proving the countless hours and millions of hands haven’t been wasted, that I’m actually good at this beyond my local card room, and be soundly slapped down. Of course I could win, and you’d never hear the end of it.
If I’m realistic for a moment, I know there’s no way I’m going to be the best in the room. In a tournament like this though it’s not always the most skilled player who wins. There’s a great deal of mental endurance that comes into play when you’re talking about doing a task for 10 straight hours and since this is poker, we can’t ignore that luck and variance have their own roles as well.
My goal for this event is to make it to day 2. If I can pull that off it will have been a success in my book. That’s still a tough goal, so it will push me, but it is achievable. At least that’s what I’m telling myself now. No matter what though, playing in the WSOP will make one hell of a story. This time in two weeks I’ll be sitting down in a hotel in Vegas to tell you what I hope will only be part 1.
When William Forster Lloyd distributed a pamphlet in 1833, he did it with the intention of explaining the problems that emerge when multiple individuals are allowed to use communal land to graze their sheep and cows. The thesis being that individuals will work for what is best for the individual and that often results in the ruin of the land. Someone will always add one too many sheep. In the 60s this was expanded to the broader environmentalist movement and specifically to sustainability. There has been plenty written about ways of getting around the commons dilemma as it applies to our green planet, but today I want to look at how(or even whether) the same principles are at work on the green felt.
This is a debate that crops up a couple times a year, but most recently has been brought to the forefront as a result of the Big One for One Drop. One drop is a charity organization with the mission of fighting global poverty by increasing access to clean drinking water. The World Series of Poker hosts the Big One for One Drop tournament. It has a buy in of 1 million dollars per player. The host casino forgoes the normal 10% rake and instead donates the money to the charity. This year 42 players entered, giving 4.6 million to One Drop and generating a 15.3 million dollar prize for the winner of the tournament. Daniel Colman won the tournament, and as soon as he did the problems started. He refused to talk to the media after his well deserved win. This act drew more headlines than the win itself.
What the two camps are saying:
Side supporting Colman’s decision: He paid to enter the tournament, played by the rules, and as soon as the tournament ended so did his obligations. He has the right to decide to do whatever he wants to and doesn’t owe the media or the blogosphere anything.
Side disputing Colman’s decision: Yes he has the right to decline an interview, but it makes the community look bad and hurts the reputation of poker as a whole. With anti-social players, how can we expect to attract new players to the game?
What the two camps actually mean:
Side Supporting Colman’s decision: Many people play poker because we love the total freedom of it. It is our money and we get to do what we want with it without having to worry about authority figures moving in on us, no set hours, no bosses, that’s how it works.
Side disputing Colman’s decision: We have to pretend we aren’t a misanthropic bunch because new players means new and inexperienced money. Pros can’t stay pros if we only play each other, we need bad players to enjoy the game so they don’t mind losing their money to us and convincing corporate sponsors to pump money into the scene wouldn’t hurt either.
Colman has responded to the uproar about his lack of response here. I’m going to ignore his comments for now because they go into a whole separate realm of should poker be supported at all because of its nature as a, “very dark game.” You might wonder why a guy who views poker as so vampiric stays in the business, and you’d be right to ask. I want to stay focused on the overall poker community concept for this post though.
One of the other times I’ve seen this argument is back in June of 2012 when Mike Sexton(pro poker player and announcer for the World Poker Tour) made public statements saying tournaments should consider instituting dress codes:
I still believe that players should be presentable, but the most important thing is the players be responsible and aware of the image that they are displaying to the world. If corporate sponsors are watching and all they see are unshaven slobs in t-shirts, shorts and sandals, why should they spend their money on the poker industry?
The same talking points were brought out then as well. I paid to enter the tournament so I should be able to wear what I want and no one can be my boss vs we have a community image to think of.
The phrase ‘don’t tap the glass’ is the embodiment of this argument for me. In poker, consistent losing players are called fish. Don’t tap the glass means don’t scare the fish away. The phrase in the poker world is used to tell people not to yell at the bad player when they get lucky and win a pot with a bad hand or bad play.
When a player who perceives themselves as good loses multiple pots against a player they perceive as bad there is a strong need to let off some steam. If this results in the ‘good’ player berating the ‘bad’ player and the bad player deciding to leave, then they take the money with them.
If the player really is a bad player then that is the last thing anyone else at the table wants. Losing players will get lucky and win on occasion, but if they are bad players they will lose the money back as long as they think they have a reason to stay at the table. Sometimes that reason is they think they are good and something it’s because they are having fun. Someone yelling at them that they are a terrible player ruins both of those reasons. The ‘good’ player got frustrated, tapped the glass, and scared away the fish. The good player added one too many sheep the meadow and now all the farmers suffer.
Is the player allowed to say anything they want at the table? Pretty much, if they bought into the game they are allowed to speak their mind. Does them speaking their mind actively cost me money? Yes it absolutely can and does.
You can tell me that poker is a game of individuals competing against each other and you’re right, but when your actions affect my ability to earn money when you aren’t involved in the hand at all, then you’ve crossed a line and I’m going to object to your behavior.
It is tough to draw as direct a line between Colman not giving an interview and me losing money, especially because of all the attention the lack of interview received versus a generic answer, “I have 110%,” set of responses. I just find it endlessly fascinating that a community can debate whether or not they are a community while often literally sitting at a round table with their money in single pot.
As always, questions, comments, and criticisms are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.
My post back in February detailed a rough downswing but promised that after a couple months I’d have some money put aside again and I’d be back at the tables. Well, it’s been a couple months. Obviously the WSOP goal can’t happen this year because the event is already over, but it’s never too early to start practicing for next year, and I still love this game. Our setting this time is not the classic Borgata of Atlantic City but instead the newly built and booming Maryland Live!(yes the exclamation mark is part of the name). It is located in a spot that draws many of the players from DC, Baltimore, and Annapolis.
In my previous two posts I played 10/20, but for the purposes of rebuilding a bankroll, starting that high would be impulsive at best and suicidal at average. Yesterday I sat a 4/8 game. My general guidelines are to buy in to a game for 20 big bets(the second number of the game) but 200 is a more round number than 160, so that was my starting point. My expectation, as usual, is to make somewhere between two and three big bets per hour at the table, so in this case my goal should be 16-20 per hour. To remind everyone of the score after the two previous sessions I posted about on this blog I was down $287 over 8 hours of play.
I arrived at 10am and was seated immediately which is always nice. No one at the table really stood out. There were no monster stacks of chips, no piles of empty beer bottles and red bull cans, no rumpled business suits with ties undone. One of the better reasons to arrive early is to try to catch the night crowd from the previous day when they’re exhausted and playing their worst, but everyone here looked like they’d slept the night before.
It only took one hand for the fish to show their colors. One gentleman in particular, wearing a CIA windbreaker, drew my attention as he passively checked and called with a terrible hand for the rest of his money. Instead of leaving he bought back in for 50(a buy in which is way too small for this table) and it was clear he had a lot more left in his wallet. He repeated the process of going broke through passive play and pairing it with a small buy in twice more in the next half hour. People who continuously make small buy instead of just putting their money on the table are often trying to delude themselves into exactly how much they are risking. “I only bought in for 50 a couple times, that’s much less risky than buying in for 200 all at once,” is the thought process when truthfully they end up losing more because they rarely keep an accurate count of exactly what they’re down.
I won’t recount any hands with him because they were all straightforward and dull. If I got a hand I knew I could bet every single card and he would pay me off with whatever he had. He rarely raised and virtually never folded. This style of poker is what you should play if you want to guarantee a loss. Loose and aggressive at least has the advantages of getting other people to fold and building big pots for you to win if you get lucky. Loose and passive will allow everyone to hit their draws on you and even if you win it will be for a small amount. Loose passive players are also known as ‘calling stations’ and before this guy left I had gone up around $80 at his expense. Not a bad start at all, and I was sorry to see him finally leave the table.
His replacement was one of the sort who gives a running commentary on everything that happens. Dealer change, better tell everyone. Waitress hasn’t come by often enough, better tell everyone. Waitress has come by and is attractive, better tell everyone and hit on her in an incredibly awkward way despite being old enough to be her grandfather. I had my headphones turned up before he even played a hand so I didn’t have to pay attention.
After his second hand he started yelling at the dealer over a minor mistake. Was the loudmouth right? Yes, but he needed to narrate his own correctness with the maximum amount of asshattery thrown in. Thankfully he didn’t stay for more than 30 minutes before getting called for a different game, during that time a dry run of cards started for me and I never was in the same hand with him.
This dry run of cards was distinctly different from the dry run that hit me back in February. That dry run included a bunch of second place hands. Second place hands cost a lot of money. What I got yesterday was a run of last place hands. People don’t lose much money on hands like 7♦4♠ and 10♣3♣ because there’s little reason to get in the pot in the first place. Folding before the flop costs little and that’s what I did for the next two hours or so. This has the effects of draining my stack back down to around $20 of profit and getting me to repeat, “Just don’t do anything stupid,” over and over in my head. The right cards will come, just don’t do anything rash to lose your stack beforehand.
While my cold streak is going, we have Red Shirt come sit at the table. I labeled him this because he was wearing a red shit and like the star trek trope, he would be the one to take the fall so that the rest of us could make it out safely. Before he sat down he was complaining about getting beaten up at a no limit game. This is great because people who are already down tend to make poor decisions, and there’s a view among some no limit players that fixed limit is poker in easy mode and they can simply switch games to make up what they lost. I’ve made a lot of money off of people with that attitude. Sure enough he starts playing wild and tries to run over people with bets, which is something that’s much easier to do at no limit as opposed to fixed limit.
I’ve been at the table for four hours and I’m up a bit, but less than where my hourly rate goal would put me. Red Shirt is getting close to all in and I’m in the big blind with 10♥9♦. Two people limp and Red Shirt bets, the small blind calls, and since I’m pretty sure the two early limpers will also call, I decide it’s worth me putting two more dollars into the $18 pot. The flop comes Q♦J♦4♠. I have an open ended straight draw which I will make roughly 25% of the time. It gets checked to Red Shirt who bets $4. I call(4 is less than 25% of 22 so it’s mathematically correct), and two other players call. The turn is the K♠, I have made my straight. I would have preferred the 8 because the K means an A10 has a better straight than I do, but it’s still pretty likely I have the best hand here. I am absolutely certain Red Shirt will bet, so I should just check and then raise him when he does so.
He behaves just like I want him to, betting $8. I raise to $16, one other player calls and Red Shirt calls which puts him all in. The call from the other player makes me pretty certain they have a flush draw, so I’m hoping no diamonds or spades hit. The river is a 6♥, pretty much the ideal card for me, no flush and no paired board so no full house. I bet and the one other player thinks a while and calls. I turn over my straight, the other player turns over Q♣2♣(I have no idea what they were doing), and Red Shirt turns over J♣J♠ for three of a kind. I’m happy to scoop the 86$ pot and Red Shirt starts cussing up a storm as he reaches for money to rebuy.
They’d been pretty vocal throughout the session and nothing drowns out a player complaining quite like the sound of stacking up their chips in front of you. The dealer calls the floor supervisor over and I look up because the hand is done, there’s nothing to really discuss. The dealer tells the supervisor the player was swearing at her. I honestly don’t know, the player was certainly cussing but I wasn’t paying much attention. The floor supervisor pulled Red Shirt to the side and chatted with them. I bring this up because a place that protects their dealers is absolutely a place that has earned my respect and repeat business.
When Red Shirt sits back down it is clear he’s absolutely fuming and starts playing any two cards as aggressively as he can. At the same time CIA jacket comes back after being gone several hours and buys back in. As long as I get some playable cards I know I can make a killing with the current table dynamic. I get AA twice, 99 four times(I don’t win them all but it was still statistically weird) and some great ace high flushes. These were cards I probably would have won with even if Red Shirt and CIA jacket weren’t making every pot about twice as big as it ordinarily should have been.
I’m up over$200 after some great exploitative play and feeling great about the table. One of the other major differences between no limit and fixed limit is the value in bluffing, there isn’t much in fixed limit. It still can be done, but you have to pick your spot carefully, and the final hand I’m going to run down here was a place I picked to try to make a move.
I’m dealt A♥K♦ in the big blind. It’s a complete coincidence both hands I’m talking about come from me in the big blind, it isn’t generally a position I like much. A pretty aggressive player in an Orioles hat raises to $4 and the small blind raises to $6. A raise from the small blind means he has a great hand, a solid pocket pair or a strong ace. In the big blind I really could have anything, so to disguise the strength of my hand I just call, and so does the Oriole. The flop comes 7♣5♣2♦, not an exciting board at all. The small blind checks. If a player three bets preflop and then checks on the flop it means they completely missed or absolutely nailed the flop. It is unlikely he his strong since he would need to have 77, 55, or 22 and I don’t think he would have raised to $6 with any of those so it makes much more sense that he has a strong ace, missed the flop, and doesn’t want to bluff with two people still to act behind him.
I decide this would be a great time for me to make a play, so I raise. I’m only kind of bluffing here because although I don’t have much, there is a good chance I have the best hand. Oriole thinks for a moment and hesitantly calls, this confirms my thought that I’m probably in the lead, or at least that I can pick up this hand. Small blind also calls. I’m not thrilled with both of them sticking around, but neither seem happy. The turn is the 8♥. Small blind checks again. I bet $8 making certain to take the exact same amount of time I took after the flop. Oriole gives me and the small blind a questioning look. My position is helping me here because Oriole has to worry about what small blind might do, eventually both players call.
The river is a 3♦. Only a really awkward straight could have made anything out of this board. Small blind checks and picks up his cards in a way he has done in several other hands when he’s ready to fold. I’m certain even if he calls I have him beat and all that remains is getting Oriole out. I bet $8 a little more quickly this time and Oriole takes maybe a minute to look back and forth between small blind and I. I think if it was just Oriole and I then he would call, but the danger of that third player is nagging at him in a way it certainly isn’t with me. Oriole lays it down and small blind folds immediately afterward. I do not show the bluff, I rarely show my cards when I don’t have to and I certainly wasn’t ruining the tight table image I had crafted.
Afterwards, Oriole claims he had 99. I don’t believe him, if he had a pair that was higher than anything on the board I’m almost certain he makes that call. If he was telling the truth then my analysis of the situation is even better in using my read of the small blind as extra strength against Oriole. I think he may have had AQ or possibly another AK though. Either way it was a hand that felt truly fantastic to win.
It was 7.5 hours into the session but I didn’t want to leave because Red Shirt was still there and paying me handsomely for the pleasure of my company. Eventually he busted again and CIA jacket had already left. With the two biggest fish of the table gone it seemed like a good time for me to make for the exit as well. I left up with $526(+$326), an obscene amount of profit for that stake. My expected winnings for 7.5 hours of 4/8 should be 125-175 and I made double that. What should be 2-3 BB/hour was instead over 8 which I know is not a sustainable win rate. Over the session my cards were roughly average, that dry spell certainly seemed long though, but the win was largely because of several players who truly had a hatred for money.
I think I played better than average, but I know I played way better than the majority of that table and I was thrilled to leave with what is suddenly a poker bankroll again. The current score for the year is +$39 over 15.5 hours. Now that I have a bankroll again I’m going to try to turn this into a weekly session and if Maryland Live! has these kind of players every Tuesday and since they demonstrated they treat their dealers with respect they’ll almost certainly see me again on the 22nd.
As always, questions, comments, and concerns are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.
A foggy/rainy mix shadows our hero on his second trip to the City on the Atlantic. The weather isn’t enough to dampen either spirits or the golden shine that reflects off the Borgata. To recap the play so far, I have played five hours and I’m up 213 with the goal of 1000. Before I get to the action, I want to present my review of the poker room in general and do a quick PSA that I beg my writer friends to read. If neither interests you, feel free to skip it.
Here is a photo of the room at capacity. There are 82 tables total, which is gigantic for a poker room these days. The arches you can see in the background on the left are where you enter from the room from the casino floor. You can’t see the curtains I mentioned in my last post, but the wall that extends to the right is the divider that separates the main room from the high stakes tables.
The dealers are quick. The waitresses come around at a reliable rate. The floor supervisors are present without being overbearing. I have two primary complaints. You can’t buy chips at the table. This is a minor complaint and I’m starting to think Canterbury Card Club, the poker room I play at in Minnesota, is the exception for allowing you to do this. When I get called for a game, I want to sit down with cash and buy chips without having to get up and go to the cages. I have functional legs though, so it’s not too big of an issue.
My second complaint is about the table construction. Look at this picture. See how the felt stays flat as it comes up to the rail? This allows you to stack your chips easily because you can use the rail as a solid surface to press your chips against. By keeping your chips back it allows more room to keep your cards out front and makes it harder to accidentally knock over stacks. These are all good things. The felt at the Borgata dips about a half inch where it meets the rail. That may not seem like much, but it may as well be the sarlacc inhabited pit of Carkoon. If you try to pull a stack of chips back to the rail, like a courteous player should, the dip is enough to cause the chips to fall back towards the rail knocking the top half of the stack into your lap if you’re lucky, and on to the floor if you’re not. I’ve only played during the day, but this seems like it would be an unbearably constant delay of the game when drinks are flowing.
PSA(Writers please read)
Two final points of clarification on terminology before I talk about the actual events of the most recent session. I feel it is my civic duty as a poker player to make these things clear to my friends who read this blog and write more seriously than I do. These are things that poker scenes in movies and books get wrong with a consistency that borders on willful ignorance. Bet, raise, and re-raise are three separate terms. They are not interchangeable. The first money to be put into the pot during any given round of betting is a bet, the next money put in above the bet(so not a call) is a raise, and any money put in above the raise(still not a call) is a re-raise. Too often the first bet is called a raise. That is wrong and makes poker players cry, but it doesn’t cause the physical pain that this other faux pas does. We’ve all heard, “I see your raise of X, and I’ll re-raise you Y,” No! Sweet buttery Jesus no! As soon as someone says, “I see your raise,” that’s it. You’ve called. To try to do anything afterwards is a string bet and wouldn’t be allowed in any poker room on the planet, probably even any poker room on this arm of the galaxy.
It took me 655 words into this post to get to the game I played on Wednesday. The game itself started much faster, we join the action on the second hand of the session. I’m dealt 5♦ 7♣ in the small blind. A hand that generally I’d fold without a second thought. I had a second thought because 5 people limped and because I was in the small blind it meant I only had to put in five more dollars to see the flop with a seventy dollar pot(ten each from the five limpers, myself, and the big blind) and I’m willing to risk 5 to win 70. The flop comes 10♥6♥4♣. I have to act first now and I check, although I’m pretty happy with the flop because I have an open ended straight draw. Any eight or any three and I have a great hand. One of those two cards will come roughly 32% of the time. It gets bet and raised, so I need to call 20$. This is a good call because at this point the pot is 150. The percentage of the pot I have to pay is less than the odds I will make my hand. This is a concept called pot odds. It’s a critical math aspect of poker to understand and right now it dictates I call. Including me there are four people left in the hand.
The turn card is the 8♠. A fantastic card for me. I now have the straight and the only hand that could currently beat me is a 97. I check because I’m certain someone else will bet, and sure enough someone else does, and then someone again raises. The initial better didn’t have enough money for a full bet, so they bet 15 and the raiser made it 35. I re-raised to 55, both players left in the hand who weren’t all in call. Four of us to the river with one player all in and a pot of 335. The way one player is playing tells me he’s absolutely on the heart flush draw. I’m pretty certain as long as a heart doesn’t hit, I’m in the clear. The river is the 4♠. I’m thrilled it isn’t a heart, then my heart sinks because a paired board(two fours are in the community cards) means someone could have a full house and one of the players having a pair of 10s, 6s, or 8s makes a lot of sense. I check, the guy I think was on the flush draw checks, the last guy bets. I call because 20 into a pot of 375 means I need to be best around 5% of the time to turn a profit. Sure enough the villain had 66, made his full house on the river, and I’m down 105 before I’ve taken off my coat.
Only seventeen cards could have beaten me(9 hearts, 3 tens, 2 non heart eights, 1 six, 2 non heart fours). That’s a 63% chance I win that hand. Two out of three isn’t a guarantee. It hurt, but so it goes. The session is still young.
What follows is an hour of folding. I get pretty iffy hands and the couple hands I get don’t connect with the flop at all. Folding is certainly less expensive than trying to overplay a bad hand, but an hour of it at 10/20 still costs me another 100. It does allow me plenty of time to get reads on my opponents and their play styles. There is one player specifically who is clearly there to gamble. he is calling down with any draw no matter how unlikely. One truly aggressive player is on the opposite end of the table. A pretty good player is immediately to my left, which I’m not happy about. You always want better players on your right. That way you act after they do the majority of hands.
I fold for another half hour, and trickle away another 50 before running into my first real hand. I wake up with Q♠Q♣, and not a moment two soon. Losing half my stack before winning a single hand was not part of the plan. I put in a bet and get raised by the really aggressive player. I’m going to skip to the end of the hand when the pot is over 200(100 from me) and the villain makes a flush on the river with 9♠4♠ in his hand. My hand was a 83.79% favorite against his preflop.
When I only have 50 left in front of me, I win a somewhat small hand. It took me two hours to win one hand. I’m staring the end of this session, my bankroll, and my world series hopes right in the face. I win a second hand, still small, but it’s another win. Do I feel momentum? Come on Reed, you’ve got a chip and chair, let’s do this. Cue the guy who was there to gamble hitting a 24% shot when I was all in to clean me out. All 500 gone in three hours. The official scoreboard would read -287 in 8 hours, but it doesn’t matter too much because the world series goal isn’t happening this year.
I’ve lost buy ins before. Looking at my stats from this summer I lost a full buy in 3 of the 16 sessions I played. This one hurts more because the stakes mean a lost buy is a lost bankroll. I still get upset even if I’m playing a 5$ buy in game though. Losing sucks, but it happens, but it sucks, but seriously I’ve had losses hit me harder. I think it largely had to do with how little I actually played. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was only involved in those handful of hands. I can’t be upset with my play because I didn’t really play much.
I’ve had rules in place for 8 years now that have kept damage to the bankroll separate from damage to the bank account(liferoll). I’m not going to break those now for the sake of this resolution. Give me a couple months and I’ll set aside some more money. This isn’t the end of my poker career, but it is going to put it on hold.
There are a few more numbers that deserve attention before this resolution comes to an early end. The three hands I lost had 37%, 17.2%, and 24% individually to go badly for me and only a 1.5% chance of me losing all three of them. That may seem small, but when you’re dealt 30-40 hands an hour, then odds are there’s going to be at least one 1.5% chance outcome occurring every three hours. It’s not all that unlikely.
That first hand(the straight vs the full house) I had an expected gain of $207.90 before the river. If you give me situations in which I’m going to make $375 63% of the time and only lose $105 the remaining 27% I’ll take it without exception. This time didn’t work out. Despite the loss, I’m still happy that I proved to myself I can play at that stake. I was able to maneuver myself into a winning position, but variance still exists and happened to rear its ugly head at a rough time.
I had a blog back in college, and I’d end every post with a quote that usually did a better job summing up my emotions and thoughts better than anything I said in the post. I don’t plan on reawakening that tradition permanently, but there’s only one way to end what will be my last poker post for a while.
“Be of good cheer. If science teaches us anything, it teaches us to accept our failures, as well as our successes, with quiet dignity and grace……….Son of a bitch! Bastard! I’ll get you for this! What did you do to me? What did you do to me?I don’t want to live. I do not want to live.” ~Dr. Frederick Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein
As always, questions, comments, and concerns are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.