Wednesday, April 30, 2008

April Is the Coolest Month

April 2008 was my third-best month everSpent a little time today looking over the April stats. Turned out to be a terrific month -- my third-best ever. My previous all-time best month was last April, actually. Something about the springtime, I suppose.

Ended up playing a lot of different games over the last thirty days. I could go back and check, but I probably played fewer hands of Hold ’em (a little under 400) during April than in any previous month since I started playing online poker.

Altogether I played about 8,200 hands of poker, not counting tournaments (of which I only played a couple, the only significant cash being last Saturday). Most of the hands were pot limit Omaha (61.1%), followed by Stud/8 (20.1%), H.O.R.S.E. (12.3%), and limit Hold ’em (4.6%). I played one short session of Stud Hi and PLO/8 (both times having accidentally sat down at those tables). Also played a few hands of five card stud on Bodog.

Essentially broke even in those Hold ’em hands. Won a little at H.O.R.S.E. and a little more at Stud/8. But by far most of my winnings for the month -- nearly 90% -- came at the PLO tables.

Why did April go so well? I ran well, I know. The biggest difference, though, had to be the fact that I rarely bought in short all month. I had been in the habit of buying in for $10 at the PLO25 tables, employing the short-stacker’s strategy of looking for spots to gamble and double up. Was mostly working, I suppose, but I had come to realize that once I did get a bigger stack I tended to make better decisions.

Finally I just started buying in for the max. every time, and while I did get stacked every once in a while, my overall swings were actually less dramatic than they were when I was primarily buying in short.

Of course, it helped to have hands like this one (from last night):



What a massacre! Bodies all over the stage. Doesn’t hurt to have a big stack, I suppose, when the cards come out so agreeably.

Let’s keep it goin’ in May, why don’t we?

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The Razz Singer

The Razz SingerSorry for that post title. Yes, I did watch American Idol last night. And yes, I am a sucker for puns.

A semi-interesting thread popped up this week on 2+2. Kind of reinforces something I mentioned a few weeks ago in a post titled “In the Fishbowl.” If yr a pro and/or high stakes player online, people are watching you. You can count on it.

The thread starts with a long cut-and-paste of some chat that recently took place at a $1,000/$2,000 H.O.R.S.E. table on Full Tilt Poker. The chat involves two Full Tilt pros -- Mike Matusow and David Singer -- and a couple of other non-pros, one of whom is named “Sassi.”

Near the beginning of the chat, Singer asks Matusow who Sassi is. Matusow knows, but won’t reveal his identity to the table. When Singer asks why, Matusow replies “ijust catn,” then adds “hes a idiot thouigh.” Shortly after that, Matusow reveals that apparently two different players use the Sassi account: “ther is sassai a and sassi b,” he explains. Then the Mouth says it “would not be fair tohim” (or them, I suppose) for Matusow to say anything more.

The reference to fairness inspires Singer to make a couple of observations. First of all, says Singer, “its a big disadvantage and sort of not fair to me, if everyone knows [who “Sassi” is] except me.” “Not really,” Matusow replies. “Hes an idiot.” Then Singer points out “its really supposed to be one player to an account.”

Looking at it from the outside, it would seem Singer’s second objection (about multiple players playing on a single account) should be the more meaningful one. However, Singer’s subsequent chat reveals he’s much more concerned with the former complaint that in playing Sassi he must play against an unknown:

David Singer: I am tired of all this mystery. Its hard enough to
try to win on a lever playing field. I guess I should just stop
playing these high limit games
David Singer: Seems unfair that everyone know who i am, and
then I am playing against mystery players sharing accounts

Sassi: my name is arthur
Sassi: fonzarrelli

David Singer: How can you win like that, Mike. It seems
impossible to beat a game given that kind of disadvantage

Mike Matusow: figured idiot alwasy got a bad on e in whole
Mike Matusow: blame howard

David Singer: y?
Sassi: sound like david is being a poor sport
Mike Matusow: ive told the idot 10000 times anyone playing
high stakes on her eshoudl play under ther own name
Mike Matusow: he told me if i dont lik it dont play

David Singer: How Am I being a poor sport?
David Singer: I am just being realistic

Sassi: you just are you think phil ivey would ever say those
things

Mike Matusow: well its even better whenther are like 50 of the
monallacccounts

Sassi: if you want to be a champ
Sassi: act like a champ

Mike Matusow: lol
Sassi: not a chump


A little bit later, Matusow tells Singer, essentially, that such a situation comes with the territory for Full Tilt pros.

Mike Matusow: dont blame anyone but yoru boss
Mike Matusow: know one

David Singer: what boss?
Mike Matusow: the one that sends u apay check
David Singer: i don't have a boss
David Singer: u mean howard
David Singer: ?

Mike Matusow: hmm i do
Sassi: im you boss
Mike Matusow: and he tells me if i dont like it dont play
David Singer: i am not blaming anyone
David Singer: i am just saying i think i am at a disadvantage
in this situation


Those responding in thread mostly criticize Singer for complaining about the disadvantage of having to play under his real name as a Full Tilt pro. They also almost unanimously congratulate Sassi for his inspired . . . well . . . sass.

While the account-sharing issue is a valid concern of Singer’s, it certainly appears odd for a Full Tilt pro to complain this way about the “playing field” not being level between himself and an anonymous competitor. As Sassi puts it later on (echoing Matusow), “if you want annonymity, dont get paid by full tilt.”

Matusow’s comment about the need for all high stakes players to play under their own accounts is an interesting one, I think, though practically speaking it doesn’t really seem like that would be a realistic idea.

What do you think about Singer’s complaints and/or Matusow’s idea?

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Name Game

The Name GameLast week, Gary Wise posted a two-part article about online poker “tells” over on the ESPN Poker Club. In the first part, Wise talks to Justin “ZeeJustin” Bonomo, Isaac “philivey2694” Haxton, and Todd “DanDruff” Witteles about bet-sizing, timing tells (or “click tells”), and screen names. In the second part, Matt “DaProfessor” Hawrilenko and Mike “Schneids” Schneider also join in to say a bit more about bet-sizing and timing, and even speculate about the significance of a player’s city.

The issue of screen names and their significance is one that’s been discussed before. John Vorhaus wrote about screen names in his Killer Poker Online: Crushing the Internet Game (2003). There Vorhaus encouraged readers to choose neutral monickers that “give no hint as to your age, gender, geographical location, level of expertise, or philosophy of play.” As it happens, I think I have done just that with all of my screen names, although as an experiment I did specifically choose a female username for one site. “Over time your choice of screen name probably won’t make a huge money difference,” writes Vorhaus, “but why give anything away?” Others have written on the subject as well, including Dr. Pauly whose “Guide to Online Poker Screen Names” appeared in Poker Player last summer (although I think he wrote about it some time before that).

Anyhow, Haxton says he varies his play “radically” against an unknown based on a player’s screen name. He then lists a number of assumptions he tends to make about names. Says Haxton, someone with a name like “shipmonieslol” or the like “is probably under 30 and probably reads poker forums” and is thus to be regarded as at least a “winning amateur.” Players who choose names of cars, cigars, or drinks (like “laphroaig,” a kind of scotch) are probably over 30. Of such a player, says Haxton (betraying a bit of age-based prejudice, perhaps), “there is a higher than normal chance that he is a fish.”

Certain off-color handles (e.g., those that include crotch jokes) and/or names featuring wacky capitalization (e.g., “AcEsFuLL4346385”) connote aggression for Haxton. He says names including words like “gamble” or “fish” or “rock” are more often than not accurately self-descriptive.

Finally, while not exactly referring to screen names, Haxton believes “anyone who has a picture of their baby as their avatar is terrible at poker.” I suppose Haxton must play a lot on PokerStars, then, the site Wicked Chops dubbed “Best Online Poker Site if You Like Pictures of Children and Dogs” earlier this month.

Following Haxton’s catalogue, Bonomo chimes in to disagree. “A screen name is not a tell,” Bonomo insists, but rather just an occasional encouragement to “stereotype” players (rightly or wrongly). Says Bonomo, screen names are better described as “personality/play style indicators” than as tells.

If I had to choose, I’d lean toward Bonomo’s line here, although frankly I would say most screen names aren’t “indicators” of much at all, with a few exceptions, perhaps. I suppose names containing “1989” or “pimp” or “420” may well tell us something about the player which may or may not relate to how he or she plays poker. But generally I’m not going to fashion a strategy -- or vary my play “radically” -- based solely on the nick.

I will admit, however, that certain names do occasionally suggest something to me about the player’s level of education and/or intelligence. Have played several sessions of H.O.R.S.E. over the last few weeks with a guy named after a Dostoevsky character. A decent player, as far as I can tell, although I’d already been inclined to think he had something going on upstairs just from his name.

A couple of months ago I played with someone named “rhizome.” If I remember correctly, he asked me something about my avatar, and after a bit he and I ended up in a brief chat about the late Gilles Deleuze. Again, even before our chat I’d already suspected the guy might’ve picked up a book once in a while.

Not saying, of course, that if someone’s screen name happens to be a character from a Russian novel or a term used by a French philosopher that automatically means that person knows how to play poker. But I tend to assume these folks are thinkers, at least. And thinkers usually have a better chance at figuring out how to play poker than most.

Then again, there are certain things about which one can probably think too much.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Celebrating Seconds

A second place finish in Saturdays with PaulyPlayed two MTTs on Saturday, both pot limit Omaha. Early in the afternoon I managed yet another mediocre showing in an AIPS event, this time finishing 28th (out of 72 runners). Was mostly too passive -- only partly due to an uninterrupted series of crummy starting hands -- and even though I lasted into the second hour I never could really wiggle myself out of the folding funk.

Later in the afternoon I bought my seat for Saturdays with Pauly, a $10-plus-$1 PLO tourney on PokerStars. Have played four or five of these suckers, I think, with my previous best showing being a tenth place. There were 29 entrants this time, meaning the top five spots paid.

After a little over two hours and about 180 hands, I somehow found myself one of two remaining players, sitting on the short stack with about 7,000 to my opponent’s 36,000.

“Gotcha right where I want ya,” I told him.

I’d been on the short stack the entire tournament, actually, having made a bad blunder early on that had knocked me all the way down under 500 chips (21st of 21 players at the time). Ultimately managed to chip my way back from the brink, though. Got extremely lucky in a hand just after the first break in which I was dealt QdKdAhTh. A player with over 7,000 raised from late position, I reraised all 1,185 of my chips, and he called showing 5cKsAsAc. Uh oh. At least both my suits were live. The board came 6s7s9d6d . . . Td. Whew. I was relatively healthy again with 2,520 (6th of 13 left).

I then managed to survive to the money bubble, which ended up taking twenty-plus hands or so. Kind of an interesting dynamic there, as one of the remaining six players had well over half the chips in play. At one point I noticed he had over 28,000 while the rest of us all sat in the 2,000-4,000 range. Finally one short stack knocked out another and we were in the cash.

Thereafter the big stack would end up losing a series of all-in confrontations with several players before going out in fourth. While we were three-handed I was the beneficiary of several nice starting hands, allowing me to survive to heads-up.

From there I only lasted five more hands against my big-stacked opponent, finally deciding to take my chances with Qc4c5sAs. I liked seeing my opponent’s hand -- Jc6hTcJd. Was actually about a 55-45 favorite preflop (according to Two Dimes). But the board brought me no aces, queens, flushes, or straights, and I took the $69.60 prize for second.

Wouldn’t say I played stunningly well, but other than the one early faux pas I don’t think I made too many missteps. Frankly the only obvious “skill” I might have demonstrated all tourney was simply being able to remain patient. I guess I did open things up a bit once we were three-handed, making a couple of decent plays there. (Though as I say, I picked up some hands then, too.) Very nice to make a deep MTT run, though. Been awhile.

Hard-Boiled Poker turns two years old todaySeems appropriate, actually, to have landed a second place just in time for my second birthday. That’s right. Hard-Boiled Poker turns two today. Hard to imagine it has only been two years, especially when I think of the many, many great folks with whom this here blog served as our introduction.

Was looking back on a post from early on, called “An Existential Pause,” when I stopped and looked around a bit. I quoted Raymond Chandler describing the detective story as “a man’s adventure in search of hidden truth.” Said then that “all poker bloggers were shamuses, really. Investigating themselves.”

At the time I wrote that post, the blog was only three months old -- “a mere babe in the blog wilderness, its identity still uncertain.” I suppose by now we’ve been walking upright for a while. Still a ton to learn, though. So continues the investigation . . . .

Thanks again, everybody, for following along.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Fossilman Sighting

Raymer visited the 1/2 HORSE tables yesterdayWas looking for a $1.00/$2.00 H.O.R.S.E. table yesterday afternoon on Stars and saw three full ones. Then noticed one had a waiting list of 26 players. First thought was there must be an ATM sitting there donating like mad for that many folks to want in.

Opened the table and watched a couple of hands. Nothing unusual. Then I noticed a lot of railbird chat. Finally I saw the reason for all of the hubbub. Greg “Fossilman” Raymer had taken a seat.

Raymer had around $185. I watched him mostly fold through the Hold ’em round, then play a couple of Omaha/8 hands. The players at the table weren’t chatting that much, but the observers were typing numerous observations about the play as well as the occasional question to Raymer. He wasn’t responding, though. Funny, one of the other players at the table actually had a pic of Raymer as his avatar as well.

Finally, after about ten minutes Raymer typed “OK, the videos are done, thank you all for your participation.” Apparently he had come on at some point and informed all of the players what was up. “You should be able to find these on proplaylive.com within a month or 3.” He then remained at the table for a while, responding to a few chatbox questions. He added that he was recording a number of videos for the soon-to-be-launched ProPlayLive site these days since he wouldn’t be playing online much during the WSOP.

Raymer thanked everyone again, saying “hope you all enjoy my $16.” My favorite response came from the player with Raymer as his avatar: “OH GOD...OH GOD...NO THANK U....U GOT A CIGARETTE GREG?” The 2004 WSOP Main Event Champ stuck around for a few more hands, lost a couple more bucks, added “I meant to say, enjoy my $21,” and finally left.

Would’ve been interesting had I logged on just a short while before. Perhaps we’ll see him again at the low limits before the end of May.

Gonna be a tourney-heavy day for me as I plan to try to play in both the AIPS event and Saturdays with Pauly (mentioned last post). Again, let me invite all you Omahalics to join the fun.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

“Made Hand Mentality” in PLO; or, He Who Hesitates Is Lost

Just Do ItHad been sitting on a post about Pot Limit Omaha for a couple of weeks now titled “Made Hand Mentality.” Not sure I’m really up to writing it today, but Dr. Pauly’s post from yesterday about PLO got me cogitatin’ about it again.

Then I read Luckbox talking PLO over on Up for Poker this morning and realized those thoughts have now moved right there to the front of the cerebral cortex. Kind of blocking my view of other things, so I guess I’ll have to try to sort it out . . . .

In Pauly’s post he lyrically details the intoxicating action PLO provides. “PLO has four cards,” writes Pauly. “Double the dosage. Double the rush.” A primary factor fueling the adrenaline surge of PLO is the fact that one is constantly playing draws. Or should be, anyway. Pauly says he “crave[s] the inundation of the gambler’s high that overcomes [his] senses when [he] shove[s] all in with a monster draw.” Likes it even more when he has to come from behind to take the hand. That’ll happen in PLO.

The point, of course, is that PLO requires one to recognize draws, especially “monster” ones, and play them correctly. Otherwise you’re lost. The post I had been thinking about writing had occurred to me during a not-so-hot stretch of PLO play where I realized I had momentarily slipped into a fairly detrimental, almost lethargic state at the tables. The problem, I finally decided, was that -- for whatever reason -- I had momentarily developed a case of “made hand mentality,” which can be deadly in PLO.

Nothing terribly profound here. It’s really a matter of timing. One cannot sit around and wait to put in bets after making hands in PLO. Rather, one has to be reasonably comfortable with the idea of betting without having already gotten there with your sets, straights, flushes, or boats. This goes for both pre- and postflop play.

Preflop, it is perfectly mindless to wait until you are dealt A-A-x-x and/or huge starters like J-T-9-8-double suited before putting in raises. Never mind the fact that you become predictable, announcing to the table every time you put in a preflop raise that yr holding something premo. Those hands don’t come that often. So you have to be willing now and then to raise with less than the best, understanding, of course, that the flop is going to determine whether or not yr gonna stay active with the hand.

In PLO, the most lucrative hands tend to be those you make on the turn, not those you make on the flop. I suppose this phenomenon is true as well in Hold ’em, although the big difference there that if you do flop the nuts in HE you’re are relatively less likely to fall behind later in the hand.

It’s vital in PLO to gauge when and in what situations you want to be putting the chips in the middle. You love it when you flop that “monster” or “nuclear” wrap draw plus a flush draw giving you 17, 20, or even more outs. You don’t wait to get there before betting, though. You go ahead put the money in, get the made hand to call you (often he can’t do otherwise), then really get excited when the turn brings one of your outs. The point is, you don’t wait to make the hand first, then hope to get action. In fact, in a lot of instances, you probably don’t want action with your flopped made hand (unless, say, you’ve flopped quads and yr opponent probably has flopped top boat).

Avoiding getting locked into “Made Hand Mentality” is probably also a good policy in other games as well, although it seems to me especially important in PLO -- or “Omadraw,” as some call it. Probably one of the more important ideas to keep in mind when playing this game.

Like I said, wasn’t completely ready to write on this one, but realized I had to before I could move on to anything else . . . . Then again, the timing seems to have been right, since tomorrow you have not one but two opportunities to put yr PLO knowledge into practice.

Tomorrow at noon (Eastern time) there is Event No. 4 of the Ante-Up Intercontinental Poker Series III in 3-D, a $5.00+$0.50 buy-in PLO tourney over on Full Tilt. Then at 4:20 p.m. (Eastern) there's Saturdays with Pauly, a $10+$1 PLO tourney on Stars.

So stop yr dilly-dallyin’ and jump in the PLO pool, why dontcha?

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Worlds Within Worlds

Worlds Within WorldsFinally got over to the barbershop to get that haircut. Way, way overdue, I was.

The woman who regularly handles the task is a friendly, sociable person with whom I usually engage in animated conversation about the previous few months’ highlights. Funny how people like that -- our lives’ “supporting cast” whom we only see intermittently -- can sometimes offer us a different perspective on our own fleeting existence.

Having been caught up in the day-to-day, you’ve missed the changes that occur over the course of a couple of months (or more). Hell, you didn’t even realize how shaggy yr hair had gotten until just a day or two before. Try to chronicle those last couple of months to someone who hasn’t been there, and you’ll sometimes see differences you hadn’t even realized.

During these little reunions, she and I will often get around to talking about poker at some point. I’ve written before about how I don’t generally introduce the subject in certain circles. But somewhere along the way she found out about my interest in the game. I think I told her about it last summer when I had been putting in a lot of late nights doing some back-end work during PokerNews’ coverage of the WSOP. Had a good stretch there where my life had been basically turned upside down (up all night, sleep all day), and so in what was probably a semi-somnambulant state I had explained it all to her as she clipped away in the mirror.

This time I told her about the plan for me to head out to Vegas next month to help cover the Series. Although not a poker player or gambler herself, she asked smart questions about the WSOP, the professional circuit, as well as the whole “skill-vs.-luck” debate.

“You’re telling me there are people who do nothing but go around playing poker tournaments over and over again?” she asked. “Can they really make a living?”

“Some do,” I explained. I defended poker as a form of gambling that does, in fact, reward skill over time, and she demonstrated her understanding of the concept with reference to the lottery, the only form of gambling our state technically allows. Like us, she doesn’t see why poker shouldn’t be legal if the lottery is.

Then she asked what I thought was a particularly revealing question for those of us who sometimes find ourselves overly immersed in the poker world.

“So are any of these poker players really famous? Like would I have heard of any of them . . . ?”

The usual names popped into my head, but I realized immediately there was no way she would recognize any of them. Sure, we all spotted Negreanu, Hellmuth, and Nguyen in that Pepsi commercial, but would anyone who doesn’t follow poker know their names? Indeed, where in the “mainstream” do we really find these poker celebrities upon whom those of us reading the forums, blogs, magazines, and books focus so intently? Where could she have encountered Doyle Brunson? Chris Ferguson . . . ?

I didn’t even try. “Yeah, some are pretty famous,” I answered half-heartedly. “In the poker world, anyway.”

Amid all the speculation about the relative status of poker’s popularity (has it peaked? is the “boom” over? is it as popular as ever?), I think many of us tend to forget just how small the “poker world” really is. Relatively speaking, anyway.

The phenomenon is partly a function of the game itself, I’d venture. I’ve mentioned before here that anecdote in Al Alvarez’s The Biggest Game in Town in which he demonstrates how severely poker players tend to isolate themselves from the outside world. Alvarez tells the story of a man who had been playing in the Golden Nugget the night Jimmy Carter was elected president. It was after midnight, and the fellow decided to take a break from the game and run up to his room to see who had won the election.

Alvarez explains: “When he returned, he announced to the table at large, ‘We’ve got a new president -- Jimmy Carter.’ The dealer stared at him coldly, as if he had broken some obscure house rule, and the man sitting next to him said, ‘The bet is three dollars.’ There was no other comment.”

Kind of the same deal in reverse, really. While poker players (sometimes) cannot seem to fathom there’s a world where poker is not front and center, there’s also that non-poker part of the world that can’t fathom poker could possibly matter that much at all.

I think I’ll try to get back over there to the barbershop for one last trim before I head Vegas-ward. Might prevent me from becoming too shaggy by mid-July. Might also help to get that one last dose of perspective before leaving the non-poker world altogether for seven-plus weeks.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It’s Time to Fold: Frank & Co. Tell Feds to Cease “Sisyphean Task” of Finalizing UIGEA Regulations

Frank & co. characterizing finalizing the UIGEA regs as a 'sisyphean' taskFollowing the April 2 hearing of a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) jointly introduced a new bill, H.R. 5767, designed to prohibit the Federal Reserve and Treasury Dept. from finalizing and implementing the UIGEA regulations. At the hearing, representatives of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Treasury Department (the authors of the regulations) as well as the American banking systems overwhelmingly demonstrated how unworkable the regulations were in their present state, and together suggested strongly they could never be made to work, practically speaking.

The newly-proposed bill is still at the very beginning of the legislative process, having only been introduced and, at the moment, only having Frank and Paul as co-sponsors. (It would likely require many more co-sponsors before being scheduled for debate and a subsequent vote.) However, Frank, Paul, and two other House members have decided to go ahead and recommend the regulators stop their work of revising the regulations now.

Along with Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), chairman of the subcommittee that held the April 2 hearing, and Peter King (R-NY), Frank and Paul have written letters to the Secretary of the Treasury Department and the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System asking both to consider abandoning the business of finalizing the UIGEA regs in favor of other pressing matters. The press release and the letters can be found here. Both letters recognize how the respective groups “have been struggling to issue these regulations,” and to each the foursome suggest the following:

“[A]s the [April 2] hearing made clear, the underlying statute makes your job extremely difficult, if not impossible. Given the many other priorities that are pending at your agencies, including the mortgage crisis, HOEPA [the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act], and UDAP [Unfair Deceptive Acts and Practices] rulewriting and many other issues, we believe it would be imprudent for you to devote additional agency resources to this Sisyphean task, especially as we intend to vigorously pursue legislation to prevent the implementation of these regulations.”

In other words, Frank, et al. are telling the feds to stop betting their thin draw and fold now. There’s very little hope you’re going to win, they say, so avoid increasing your already substantial loss of effort and expense and let the UIGEA go gentle into that good night.

Nobody likes to have their work characterized as “Sisyphean.” Except for masochists. And perhaps those who genuinely believe their work is not futile, but will actually bear fruit. The fact is, both of the federal representatives who spoke at the April 2 hearing did anything but suggest they believed their assigned task to be achievable. It would be difficult to imagine the feds not understanding the logic of the argument presented in these letters.

Doesn’t mean the work to finalize the regs won’t continue. But it does look like the big UIGEA ball might’ve rolled back down to the bottom of the Hill for now.

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The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show, Episode 2: The Killer Cards

The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio ShowJust posted Episode 2 of the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show. You can listen the show by clicking here. (Right-click and “save as” if you want yr own special copy.)

I’ve put up a detailed post over on the show’s site that provides some background to episode 2 and other “show notes.” And I have managed to figure out how to get the show onto iTunes, so you can now subscribe to it over there, if you wanna.

Episode 2 follows the format of the first one -- some short subjects followed by the “main feature,” an old time radio show involving poker and/or gambling. Got contributions from Tim Peters (CardPlayer, The Literature of Poker) & Bob Woolley (Poker Grump) again. Also have another old 78 RPM record in there. The radio show this time around is an episode of The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe titled “The Killer Cards.”

If you happen to give this sucker a listen, I’d love to hear yr feedback. Still learning some of the ins and outs of managing sound quality, editing, etc. I mentioned it before, but let me say again how arduous it can be to pull one of these podcasts together. Gotta hand it to all of those who’ve tried it themselves. Hell of a lot of fun, too, though, which is why I imagine just about everyone who chooses to do something like this gets into it.

Not sure at the moment what the schedule will be for the next few episodes. I’d like to keep cranking ’em out somewhat regularly (e.g., every 3-4 weeks or so). Of course, once we reach the summer I’m probably going to be preoccupied a bit as I’ll be out in Vegas covering the WSOP.

Speaking of, it looks like I’ll be flying into McCarran just a little over a month from now. Might try to prepare a couple of shows before the big departure so as to have ’em in the can already once I’m there. Don’t really expect to have time for such tomfoolery once the circus kicks off at the end of May . . . .

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

“Raise That Rake!” (2 of 2)

Raise that Rake!Last week I wrote about a wild Razz hand in which the final pot had ballooned to 43 big bets. I told how three of the players involved had been dealt essentially the same cards in the same sequence. There was a fourth player who rode the hand to the end who shouldn’t have been there, but among the three real contenders, all of us were dealt pretty much the same hand from beginning to end:
  • we all started out with three babies
  • we all received needed low cards on fourth street
    (giving us 4-3-2-A, 5-4-3-A, and 6-3-2-A)
  • we all received high cards on fifth
  • we all received a 9 on sixth
  • we all received a 7 on seventh
  • I concluded by suggesting the hand demonstrated “a general truism of all forms of poker that whenever players get dealt hands of equal value, action tends to increase.” There are other, more specific ways action increases, of course, but generically speaking if multiple players are dealt similar hands, it seems to me that usually ensures bigger pots.

    You’ve been there, I’m sure. Spots where you and your opponent are in fact tied but neither knows it. You raise and reraise one another, creating a monstrous pot, and then discover in the end yr betting the same hands & chopping it. And then you discover yr both down a smidge thanks to that rake.

    One particularly frequent rallying cry of the “online-poker-is-rigged” camp is to suggest poker sites artificially raise the rake by dealing cards in sequences destined to encourage action. I’ve never been one to indulge in such delusions, but since we were on the subject of “raising that rake,” I thought I’d share one instance when I did catch myself wondering something along those lines.

    I was playing what would turn out to be my very last session on Ultimate Bet. Back in November 2007, I told you the twisted tale of my arduous efforts to withdraw funds from the site. There I explained that following the Absolute Poker “super-user” scandal I decided I no longer wanted to play either on AP or UB, since the company that owned AP had bought out the company that owned UB in the fall of ’06. What I didn’t spell out at the time was the fact that it was this particular session –- my last on UB –- that in fact helped push me to make the decision.

    I was at a LHE table ($1.00/$2.00). As I remember, there were at least two or three very erratic players at the table, including a fellow to my right who’d end up dumping nearly a hundy within just a few dozen hands. As a result, I ended up doing a lot of folding as I waited for premium hands.

    Finally picked up big slick and found myself heads-up against another player. The flop came ace high and we ended up capping it. Can’t remember the turn, but a king came on the river and we capped it again. Yes, my opponent had AK as well. Nothing too remarkable there. That’ll happen now and then.

    Then, about two or three hands later, I picked up JJ and ended up creating another big pot against a single opponent. What did he have? Jacks as well. How about that . . . ?

    Then, on the very next hand I get pocket rockets and raise it up. Guy to my left calls the two bets, then the player to his left three-bets it. Comes back around to me and I cap it. Guy to my left snap-calls, as does the third player.

    Flop comes Q-7-3. I’m acting first and so bet out. First guy calls, second raises, and I three-bet. Again my buddy on my left calls the three bets lickety-split. Other player caps it. The turn brings a J. This time I bet and the guy to my left raises. Now I’m caught in the whipsaw, wondering about a set, but I was too stubborn to let it go. I can’t remember the river, but it turned out to have been a blank, and we did the same dance one more time. The final pot is enormous, something like $80-$90. What did we have?

    Guy to my left had J-7 for two pair. Offsuit, no less.

    Other dude had the other two aces.

    I played a few more hands, then sat out to brood a bit about my misfortune. Then I thought about how friggin’ unlikely it was to be dealt the same hand like that three times in such quick succession.

    What are the chances of an opponent being dealt exactly the same pocket pair as you in Hold ’em? According to the Wizard of Odds, at a ten-handed table the chances are 0.0001662 or a little worse than 1 in 6,000. The odds of it happening two hands in a row? Like 1 in 36 million or something . . . ?

    Now I’ll admit I had already developed a sincere prejudice against Ultimate Bet before that session took place, and was just about ready to pull my funds anyway. I realized, though, that for a brief moment I’d felt genuinely paranoid about the site’s integrity.

    My first thoughts actually concerned Mr. Jack-Seven happily calling all of those bets to get to his two pair. Was he a “super-user”? Could he see he was up against two players with aces? (The most likely explanation, of course, was he was a yahoo.)

    Those thoughts quickly gave way to the slightly less-crazy seeming idea that the site was purposely dealing those “action hands.” What easier way to induce action than to give players identical starting hands and let ’em go to war?

    Shamus in a tin foil fedoraI know what yr thinking. “Where’s your tin foil fedora, Shamus?” Don’t worry. I am reasonably certain that even a screwed-up site like UB wouldn’t bother with such shenanigans. Not really . . . .

    But I also knew I wasn’t going to keep playing there. Lots of other places to play that haven’t been involved with “super-user” scandals -- where the more sane among us never have to wonder about the site artificially trying to “raise that rake!”

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    Monday, April 21, 2008

    “Raise That Rake!” (1 of 2)

    Have been playing more and more Stud/8 lately. Did a quick check of my April stats over the weekend and saw that almost 30% of my hands this month have been at the Stud/8 tables. Was sitting at one a couple of days ago ($0.50/$1.00) and had an issue arise that I know all players (of all games) have probably at least considered before, if not openly debated.

    (DISCLAIMER: Usually when I present hands here I alter nothing other than player names; i.e., the action is always exactly as it occurred. In this case I have changed a few of the particulars since they would’ve complicated the question unnecessarily.)

    In this particular hand I was dealt 3s4s8c with the eight showing. Among the other players only one other upcard was a low card, and it was also an eight. I limped in, then, after a couple of folds, a player to my left -- SideshowBob -- with the Kh showing competed to fifty cents. Two others called, as did I. Going to fourth street the pot was $2.55. On fourth I received the 6c, giving me a so-so low draw. SideshowBob picked up an ace and so acted first with a bet. I called. The other two players also called. Pot $4.55.

    Fifth street was good to me. I picked up the As, giving me a 8-6-4-3-A low. SideshowBob got what appeared to be an unwanted nine. And the other two were dealt brick-looking cards. This time SideshowBob checked. With the only completed low at the table, I bet the dollar. The others folded and Bob called. We’re now heads-up. Pot is $6.55.

    Sixth street is where that issue I mentioned at the beginning begins to arise. I get a jack, and SideshowBob gets another ace. Here’s the scene:

    *** 6th STREET ***
    Dealt to Short-Stacked Shamus [3s] [4s] 8c6cAsJc
    Dealt to SideshowBob [downcard] [downcard] KhAh9sAc

    Bob checks. Dunno what he has underneath, but it doesn’t matter, really. I have the low locked up, he has the high locked up, and if we both remain to the end we’re destined to be splitting this pot. The question is, should I bet?

    As you think about that, I’ll tell you I did bet, and he just called. Now the pot is $8.55. Seventh street brings me another jack and SideshowBob checks again. I bet again, Bob called again, and we split a $10.05 pot (with fifty cents going to the rake).

    While the cards are being dealt for the next hand, SideshowBob decides to object to my having bet the latter two streets: “you cant beat the hi & youre betting why?” I chime back quickly with a “why not?” His response: “raise that rake!”

    Now when I bet sixth and seventh, I know there is little chance Bob is going to fold. The cards I have showing -- 8c6cAsJc -- suggest I could have a flush (or maybe on seventh having completed a very unlikely straight). But I know it is very, very unlikely he’s actually going to fold here. Should I be bothered about raising the rake, though?

    Well, let’s look at the rake structure in this particular game. We were on PokerStars, where a nickel is taken for every dollar in the pot, and the site stops taking anything after the rake reaches $0.50. My bets on sixth and seventh meant the final pot ended up over $10, so Stars took the full fifty cents. Had we checked it down on those last two streets, the final pot would have been $6.55, meaning the rake would have been $0.30. Indeed, I did “raise that rake” a full twenty cents, meaning the two of us each lost an extra $0.10 because of our bets. (Or because of my bets, SideshowBob would likely clarify.)

    Set aside the fact that nickels and dimes mean more or less to us depending on the stakes we play and think of this question in relative terms. Is Bob right? Should I refrain from pumping up the pot like this in a situation where I know my opponent and I each have half the pot locked up, and I also know the chances are slim my opponent will fold?

    Here’s another way to look at the question: How often does my opponent need to fold to make betting the latter streets the right play? What am I risking here? Ten cents. With every dollar I stick into that pot, I’m probably going to lose a nickel. Definitely not smart, if I know that’s how it is going to go down every single time. However, if he does happen to fold on sixth street, I win a $6.25 pot (after the rake). And if he folds on seventh street, I win a $8.15 pot (after the rake). If I’m not mistaken (and hey, I could be, so lemme know), that means . . .
  • If he folds at least 1 in 62 times on sixth street, I profit.
  • If he folds at least 1 in 81 times on seventh street, I profit.
  • Why do I say that? Well, let’s say we played out this same scenario 62 times and I decide to go ahead and risk losing five cents every time with my sixth street bet. If SideshowBob does call me all 62 times, I’m going to lose $6.20 overall. Not good.

    But if he folds just once, I win a $6.25 pot for my efforts and come out $0.05 ahead. And if he folds twice, I win two such pots and come out $6.30 ahead. Takes me an extra dime to get to seventh, so that means he’s got to fold once in 81 hands for me to realize that nickel profit. Again, though, if he folds twice I’m gonna be $8.20 ahead overall.

    All of which seems to mean that if I think it is possible SideshowBob could fold this hand, say, once every 30 or 40 times we play it, I have to keep betting. Am I right? (You tell me.)

    Curious, really, how often people make that “raise that rake!” complaint in the chat box. (Especially in the low limits where I hang out.) Am gonna return tomorrow with one more post concerning this issue of online sites and the rake -- in particular that idea that the so-called “rigged” site pumps up the rake with action-inducing deals.

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