Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Thoughts on Various Subjects

“I must complain the cards are ill shuffled till I have a good hand.”
--Jonathan Swift, "Thoughts on Various Subjects" (1728)

Yesterday I listened to Chuck Humphrey interviewed on the 1/25/07 episode of Keep Flopping Aces. Humphrey’s a Colorado lawyer who maintains what is probably the most up-to-date and informative website around if you’re looking for information about current U.S. gambling laws. I’d read a few of his articles back in October regarding the UIGEA, including “Some Specific Points on the New UIGEA” and “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.” If you haven’t read those analyses and are interested in learning more about the possible implications of the UIGEA, both are worth checking out.

Humphrey builds upon those earlier arguments during the Keep Flopping Aces interview. As in those articles, Humphrey continues to express pessimism about the fate on online poker in the United States. In the interview, Humphrey suggests that Neteller’s successors (like ePassporte) will very likely suffer a similar fate as “financial transaction providers” considered by the Department of Justice to be in violation of the terms of the UIGEA. He also doesn’t appear to give the idea of a “poker carve out” much of a chance. On the show they don’t specifically discuss that possibility -- the primary strategic tact being pursued by the Poker Players Alliance at present -- but Humphrey does say that he is not convinced we’re gonna to see poker being distinguished from other “games based on chance.”

Lot of people don’t wanna hear what Mr. Humphrey is saying. Indeed, reading or listening to Chuck Humphrey sure as hell ain’t gonna cheer any of youse up. Those who already felt somewhat powerless in the face of ever-mounting pressures might well feel more so after such study. What in the world can be done to ensure our ability to play online poker?

How about boycotting online poker? (“Huh?” you say.)

That’s the plan put forth by Falstaff (of PokerStage) about a week ago. His “Not Very Modest Proposal” is for online poker players not to play online poker from midnight (EST), Thursday, February 8th through midnight (PST), Sunday, February 11. According to Falstaff, doing so “would provide a clarion call to poker sites to take some of our hard-earned rake and throw more money at this problem until the UIGEA is repealed.”

A few folks, including Bill Rini, think Falstaff’s plan worth trying. (EDIT [added 2/1/07]: Bill has since updated his position.) Others, like Dugglebogey (of Go Be Rude) are less enthusiastic. Says Dugglebogey, “It would be great if we could send a message to the poker rooms that they need to do some more work standing up for the players in the US, but I just don’t think poker players are that organized.”

Falstaff recognizes this fact about poker players when he suggests we’re particularly affected by Newton’s First Law, a.k.a., the law of inertia stating “an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force.” He’s right, of course. Though I think it goes deeper than simple inertia, which by definition is a state of passivity. I’d go further and say that unwillingness to move is more often than not an active, conscious decision made by poker players. We sometimes talk of “isolation” as a strategic ploy whereby placing a bet gets us alone against an opponent of choice. But isolation is also the preferred strategy for poker players, generally speaking. It’s not just that we’re hard to organize . . . it goes against our very nature to get along at all.

Poker players are always trying to go “against the grain.” You find yourself at a loose table, you play tight. Surrounded by rocks? Loosen up. We’re constantly antagonizing one another at the table -- in our play and sometimes in other ways, too. We also can’t agree on anything. I just happened yesterday also to listen to Lou Krieger’s interview with Howard Schwartz, proprietor of the Gambler’s Book Shop in Vegas, from last summer (available here over on Hold ’em Radio). Krieger asked Schwartz about which poker books sold particularly well in his store. “Interestingly,” said Schwartz, “the egos of poker players are more fragile than [with] any other form of gambling.” As a result, even though they have thirty different areas of gambling covered in the store, it is only over in the poker section where he witnesses heated arguments about particular authors or books. “Whatever works for some people is a total failure for others, and that’s what I think makes poker unique. Each person learns a different way.” He’s right. Each of us cultivates his or her own individual style, and thus each of us tends to think of the game itself in a way that makes it hard (sometimes) even to communicate with someone else. (Witness your typical medium-length thread on Two Plus Two or RGP.)

The biggest problem, though -- in this context -- is the way poker players tend to shut the world out in the effort to focus solely on the game at hand. In The Biggest Game in Town (1983), Al Alvarez speaks frequently of how isolated poker players are from the so-called “outside world.” He marvels at how events of great importance outside of Glitter Gulch -- say, the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II -- aren’t even acknowledged at the poker tables. He tells one story of how a man he knew was playing hold ’em in the Golden Nugget the night Carter was elected president. It was well after midnight, and the man decided to take a quick break from the game to go up to his room and find out the election results. “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.”

Same scenario for online poker players, I think. A lot of us just can’t be bothered. Which is all the more ironic, of course, since in this case the “outside world” is looking to end the game altogether.

Just some of the many reasons why Falstaff’s proposal will have little practical effect. Of course, Jonathan Swift never intended for his “Modest Proposal” to be actually realized, either. And like Swift, I think Falstaff is on the right track by trying to get the message to the sites that yes, they should step up and do whatever they can to fight this cause. (Hell, Falstaff gets extra points for alluding to “A Modest Proposal” at all, in my book. They don’t come much more hard-boiled than Swift.)

So get yr head outta the sand, check out Chuck Humphrey’s arguments, give Falstaff’s idea (and some of his other ideas) some consideration, join the friggin’ PPA, and keep thinking about how we might actually work together here. For once.

Better than just sitting around complaining until we get dealt a better hand.


Monday, January 29, 2007

AIPS II Event No. 1 -- NL Hold 'em

What do these three guys have in common?Okay, smarties . . . what do these three guys have in common? (Keep reading.)

The Ante Up! Intercontinental Poker Series II: Electric Boogaloo began this past Saturday with the first event, no limit hold ’em. The Ante Up! guys have smartly planned a schedule that has tourneys occurring once a month. The buy-ins are $5.00+$0.50 (except for Event No. 12, which will be $24+$2). Saturday’s event attracted 111 players with enough money left over at Full Tilt Poker -- or who had figured out how to transfer funds there in time for the tourney. The top 18 spots paid.

I have to say I wasn’t terribly optimistic going in on Saturday. I’d had a pretty rough week at the limit tables, and haven’t been playing tourneys much at all for the last six weeks or so. Once the tourney finally began a little after noon on Saturday, I realized I was having a hard time even focusing on the action. Not the best frame of mind with which to enter a tourney, short on both confidence and concentration.

Nothing too remarkable happened for me during the first few orbits. I won a couple of small pots, lost those chips back in minor skirmishes, and was sitting with 1,490 chips in Level 4 (30/60 blinds) when I picked up KcAs in middle position. An early position player with 1,355 min.-raised to 120, and I bumped it up to 350. Everyone folded and the original raiser called. The flop came 3cJc7s and my opponent quickly pushed his remaining 1,005 into the middle. I thought for a moment, typed “AJ?”, and folded my hand. He showed JdAc, typing “lol.”

Despite losing some chips, that hand actually helped my confidence a bit. The very next hand knocked it back down, though. I was now in early position (UTG+2) and was dealt AdAh. It folded to me and I actually just called, hoping one of the remaining players would put in a raise and I could repop it. A little more fancy than I usually prefer, and, in fact, if I had put in a raise here it probably would’ve been read by someone as steaming and I’d have gotten action anyway. But I was greedy. To my dismay, it folded to the button who just called, and three of us (including the big blind) saw a horrific flop of 7d8h6h. I had to see where I was, and so when the big blind checked I bet out 120. The button smooth-called and the big blind folded. The turn was the 4s. I timidly bet 220 into the 670 pot and the button rightly pushed all-in (regardless of what he had). I had to muck.

So we’d been playing just over a half-hour and I was down to 740 chips, putting me 89th out of the 93 remaining players. Now I just had to sit tight and be content to nurse the short-stack. And try not to beat myself up too much over bungling those pocket rockets.

By the start of Level 6 (50/100), I’d fallen to 530 chips (76th of 78). I pushed with A3, a pair of deuces called me, and doubled up when both an ace and trey came on the flop. By the one-hour break I had 1,210 (59th of 76). Still alive. But not too healthy.

Somehow I hung in, pushing about every other orbit or so and either picking up blinds and antes or occasionally winning a coin flip and a modest number of chips. I never really had enough chips to make more than a single move in a given hand, so I can’t honestly say I was playing solid poker. But I was at least doing enough to make those few chips I had last. The total players dwindled down to 50, then 40, then 30. I was near the very bottom the entire way, but I was still playing.

At one point we were down to about 27 players and I had a measly 1,795 in chips (25th place). The blinds were 150/300 (plus 25 ante), so once again it was desperation time. I was in the big blind and it folded all the way around to the button who raised to 800. The small blind folded and I considered my holding -- KsTh. With all of the dead money in the pot, there was 1,475 out there. He’s gotta be stealin’, I thought. At the very least I probably have two live cards. I pushed. My opponent thought for a bit and called me with 7h6s. I think we both played that hand well, actually. I survived the board and had 3,915 in chips -- about the most I had all tournament, in fact.

After a couple dozen hands we had reached the bubble. I was getting absolutely nothing card-wise, and despite stealing blinds and antes a couple of times with squat I couldn’t stop my stack from dwindling back down under 2,000. When we got to 19 players left, I was one of three essentially tied for last. The tourney was played hand-for-hand. I watched as one dribbled down to 600 chips or so, then luckily won an all-in versus two other players to triple up.

Finally came the moment of truth for your humble servant. The blinds were 250/500 (50 ante) and I was in middle position with a pair of treys. I had about 1,900 chips left, and the blinds were getting close. I had a slight edge over one other player chipwise, but not enough to be able to ride it out. It folded to me. I decided to push and watched the table fold around to the big blind. He thought for 15 seconds or so, then called with K7-suited.

The flop came AQJ rainbow. The turn was another ace. If I could dodge ten outs on the river, I’d be okay.

But the river was a 10, giving my opponent the straight, and bouncing me out in 19th place.

I was initially bummed at having earned the ignominious distinction as bubble boy, particularly after that rough week at the cash tables. But I got over it soon enough. Indeed, looking back to where my head was at the start of the tourney -- never mind how that first half-hour went -- I was pretty thrilled to have lasted as long as I did. I never had much more than 4,000 the entire tourney -- that’s not even 1/40 of the chips that were in play -- and still somehow made it to 19th. Little bit hard to fathom, really. Talk about “Short-Stacked” . . . . (Figured out what Wordsworth, Fielder, and Moneymaker have in common yet . . . ? And me?)

Next up, Stud. Where’s my Roy West? Gotta go review his book. Perhaps I’ll cook myself up a steaming pot of macaroni-and-cheese and cut up some hot dogs to go in it, just to put myself in the mood.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Rules of Engagement

Rules of EngagementJanuary has turned out to be another up-and-down month (like December). After that excellent first day, I’ve endured another roller coaster-type period here that has left me just about where I began. Looking back, I see I’ve fallen victim yet again to what I’ve now decided to be the one (or two) most damaging flaw(s) in my game -- my winning sessions are too short, and my losing sessions are too long. Regular readers might have noticed how I keep coming back to this issue, writing about again and again. In mid-December I performed the self-diagnosis one more time in a post called “Poker’s Sisyphean Challenge.” There I referred to Steve Zolotow’s recent CardPlayer article in which he characterized this very flaw as a “major discipline problem.”

It’s time for some sort of intervention. I’ve thought about this for a good while, finally coming up with eight “Rules of Engagement” that I’m going to try to follow here as I move forward. (Many of these concern issues previously considered at Hard-Boiled Poker -- in those cases, I have linked back to those earlier posts.) These are truly "shots in the dark." I’m very interested in hearing what folks think of these here guidelines, so please send along any criticisms or suggestions.

As you read these, keep in mind (1) I’m playing primarily low fixed limit games ($1.00/$2.00), more often than not short-handed (6-max); (2) The limits I’ve established in rules #2, #3, and #4 are what I think might work for me -- if others think these rules are worth anything, they might want to alter the number of hands or win/loss figure; (3) I generally prefer not to play more than 200-300 hands per session, so those who like to play more might also find the limits I’m setting there to be inapplicable; (4) Ace-rag (rule #6) is my problem hand -- others may have a different hand holding that serves a similar purpose; (5) I am yr average, jingle-brained sap.

Here they are:

1. One table at a time.
I rarely play more than two at a time, but even then I know I’m losing an edge. I don’t know how (or whether) Poker Tracker can easily show me my results when I play a single table vs. when I play more than one table. (Anyone know how to check this? Let me know!) I strongly suspect, though, that I’m a loser overall whenever I open that second table. Once I do, I know I am no longer bothering to record mentally a lot of the information I otherwise take in during play. Another reason for me to avoid multitabling is the fact that more often than not I’m playing short-handed games, thus increasing the likelihood I’m due to make decisions at more than one table. I know the young guns boast of playing four, six, eight, or even more tables at once, but my addled brain simply cannot keep up enough for multitabling to be positive EV for me. (See “You Have Options at Gamefisher Table!”)

2. Leave after 100 hands if not up at least 5 big bets (e.g., $10 at the $1.00/$2.00 tables).
This rule (and the next two) are probably ones that many pros wouldn’t necessarily recommend. I have read in various places how it isn’t such a good idea to give yourself a fixed goal like this, as it has the potential to influence artificially your decision-making. I have a couple of responses to that observation. The first is that I’m not setting a goal here -- I’m not trying to win a certain amount at a given table, then leave once I do. Rather, I’m suggesting to myself that since there are always dozens of other tables out there to select, why remain at this one if I am not winning? I would hope this rule would also encourage me to remain at a table where things are going well. This is another, related problem I sometimes have -- once I win a significant amount, I tend to get anxious to leave so as to be able to record that winning session. This is, of course, counterintuitive. Why am I in such a hurry to leave a table where I’m a winner? The second response is that I’m not a pro. I’m not even a great player -- just a good one whose cautious approach and bankroll management skills have helped him maintain a modest win rate. Unlike the greats, I need to set some limits in order to reverse that trend of short winning sessions and long losing sessions.

3. Leave after 50 hands if down (any).
Building on the previous rule, here. 50 hands might not seem like a large enough sample to determine whether or not I have a chance to be successful at a given table, but here I’m counting on what I think to be a slight edge I possess over many of the opponents I face, namely, the ability to read them more quickly than they can read me. In the 6-max game, 50 hands is usually more than enough time for me to discover all five of my opponents’ patterns, tendencies, level of aggression, and so forth. (I may need to allow myself a longer period if playing a full table, but I'll stick with 50 there as well for now.) It is probably enough for them to figure me out as well. Nevertheless, if it hasn’t become somewhat clear to me that I have an advantage at a given table, shouldn’t I consider moving on?

4. Leave if ever down more than 10 big bets (i.e., $20 at the $1.00/$2.00 tables).
Again, this might seem a bit hasty. One can suffer a couple of bad beats -- hands otherwise played masterfully but lost when one’s opponent sucks out -- and be down 10 big bets within the first orbit. Why do I think I should leave so quickly? Why not stick around and get back what that donkey took from me? Like all of these rules, this is one aimed at my own particular profile. I get a little rattled when something like that happens, and I tend not to play my best game when significantly down (even if undeservedly). I usually carry 25 big bets to the table (e.g., $50), so losing more than 10 means my stack has been nearly cut in half. Whether this happens in 2 hands or 49 hands, I’m thinking that I, personally, need to seek greener pastures. (See “The Long Goodbye.”)

5. Leave if less than four-handed.
I actually enjoy playing heads-up and three-handed, but the fact that I’m putting in a blind more often than not in these situations makes it less than worthwile (for me, anyway). My Poker Tracker stats confirm this conclusion. There I see (since last July) I’ve played just over 1,000 hands either heads-up or three-handed. I’ve won about a third of those hands, but my overall net is a slight loss (about -0.03 BB/hand). Predictably, I’m a winner when not posting a blind (i.e., when on the button in the three-handed situation), and a loser when I do post (0.08 BB/hand). I suppose the rake is an issue here, too. While I feel like I adjust fairly well when the table is breaking up around me, I might as well leave, too, since I’m obviously not a consistent winner in these situations.

6. Leave the moment I don’t know how to play Ace-rag.
I’ve discovered that for me Ace-rag is a pretty clear indicator of where my head is at. I’m no fan of Ace-rag, but at the 6-max tables there are frequent occasions when it is not only playable, but can be worth pushing (depending on position, opponents, recent history, etc.). However, I have to be in tune with what is going on around me in order to play Ace-rag correctly. I’m not exactly saying here that if I notice myself committing blatant errors (e.g., calling three bets preflop when out of position with A4-offsuit) that’s how I’ll know I’m having a problem. Rather, I’m talking about something less tangible -- namely my initial reaction, when, say, I have just been dealt A6 in the cutoff. Am I glad? Am I anxious? When the action gets to me, do I know what to do? If I am not sure how to proceed, it is usually because of what has happened before at the table. Whether it be my opponents, the cards, my own level of play, or a combination of all three, if previous hands have affected my nerve, causing me confusion about how to deal with Ace-rag, it is time to get up.

7. Don’t concern self with getting back to even (i.e., logging a so-called “winning session”).
Like a lot of players, if I find myself behind in a session I tend to become fairly obsessed with the idea of getting back what I’ve lost. I alluded to this phenomenon recently in another context (“Anyone Else Feeling Stuck?”). This obsession is, I believe, the primary reason why I’m seeing my losing sessions lengthen and my winning sessions cut short. If I refocus my attention toward the particular table at which I’m sitting, I just might be able to train myself to stop fretting over what I’m ultimately going to be writing down in my black book at the end of the day.

8. Avoid chat.
I generally do, but it doesn’t hurt to remind myself. All sorts of reasons why not to chat. (See “Shaddup and Play Already,” “Humble Pie,” “Canary in the Coalmine.”)

There they are. At the end of February I’ll report back how these here rules have worked out. Meanwhile, any advice, criticisms, suggested revisions, or words of warning will be much appreciated.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Game of Incomplete Information

“Poker is a game of incomplete information.”

That’s from Harrington on Hold ’em, of course. Harrington’s quote about the game of poker seems highly applicable to the current state of online poker in America, generally speaking. Americans who play online poker today find themselves confronted with a constant stream of incomplete information. We are unsure about the future processes by which we will transfer money to and from poker sites. We are unsure about the integrity of certain sites and the alternatives to Neteller we are having to explore. We are even unsure about how best to proceed in the fight to save online poker (e.g., witness forum debates about the efficacy of joining the Poker Players Alliance). Compounding everything, falsehoods about the current status of the UIGEA continue to be perpetrated as well.

Here’s a quick list of a few of the areas where online poker players currently find themselves receiving incomplete information:

About online poker sites

A couple of posts back I complained about how the poker sites on which I play seemed as though they were being less than forthright with me about a certain aspect of their operations. My question concerned how exactly each site managed the money in players’ accounts -- by no means a question of great urgency for me, but an indicator of sorts of how the climate of information-sharing has changed since the passage of the UIGEA last October. Whereas before sites saw it needful to be as transparent as possible with customers regarding such issues, such openness no longer appears to be the case.

The most recent episode of the poker podcast Rounders (1/21/07) featured an interview that seemed to confirm what I was trying to say in that post. Mike Johnson and Adam Schwartz interviewed a person named Chris -- an executive at Cake Poker, a relatively-new poker site that currently hosts a modest number of players. Chris was a thoughtful commentator on the situation (even if we didn’t learn his last name -- more incomplete information!). Speaking of one effect the legislation has had, Chris said “It’s kind of futile, what they’re trying to do, because it is just going to push . . . [the online poker industry] underground. It was gaining some respectability and some, you know, official acceptance and recognition, especially when they [were] publicly listed companies. Now . . . nobody can go public. Now they all have be go private, and there’s no due diligence out there right now when you see . . . you know, at least Neteller would release their public records. At least PartyGaming would release their public records, their earnings, what they were spending, those kinds of things. Now you just have to trust what a company says again. It goes back to the way it was in 1999 and 2000, almost.”

Co-host Schwartz pointed out how a couple of sites operating then made off with players’ money. “A couple did,” acknowledged Chris. “And in the end, this [i.e., the unlikelihood of sites cheating customers] was the good thing [about online poker, because] it was starting to get acceptance and recognition . . . that’s the worst part, now [i.e., that such transparency is no longer the case].”

About third-party vendors

Unlike a lot of Americans who play online poker, I am not currently exploring ways to withdraw my money from any of the sites on which I play. Those who are have encountered a lot of difficulty -- particularly if attempting to move money to or from Neteller. I’ve read and heard stories about various problems encountered by players attempting to transfer funds, to use their Neteller debit cards, to contact customer service, and so forth.

Granted, forum threads aren’t always the most reliable place to research the situation -- amid the reports of players’ woes, I’m also see mind-boggling speculation that the DOJ may next seize funds in Neteller accounts. Can’t really imagine that as a possibility, but such worries aren’t entirely out of hand, I suppose, given the present state of uncertainty. We hear about ePassporte being a suitable alternative for Neteller, but we also hear about the company’s low rating (an “F”) from the Better Business Bureau. As I mentioned before, it is very difficult to play this here hand confidently until more information becomes available.

About the Poker Players Alliance

I am a member of the PPA. I sent in my dues, received my T-shirt and pin, and support their efforts. However, many online poker players are skeptical about the organization’s ability to represent online poker players’ needs and concerns, never mind actually help counter the effects of the UIGEA on online poker. In Two Plus Two’s statement regarding the PPA -- available here -- an outside law firm hired to review and analyze the PPA concluded they did “not believe Two Plus Two can actively encourage the financial support of the PPA because of the organization[’]s lack of transparency.” In other words, the chief criticism here appears to be incomplete information about how exactly the PPA operates. (EDIT [added 2/1/07]: On January 29th, The Poker Players Alliance posted a copy of its 990 form for 2005, fully disclosing its use of members' fees.]

I have to admit I have not read through all of Two Plus Two’s statement, nor have I followed up on either of the lengthy threads it engendered (available here and here). Perhaps in part because I haven’t read through the criticisms, I remain optimistic about the PPA and its future plans. I find PPA President Michael Bolcerek’s statement on “The State of Poker” (issued earlier this week) somewhat encouraging. Though, of course, I admit that here, as elsewhere, I am only operating on partial, incomplete information.

About the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act

Finally -- why do people keep talking about waiting 270 days until the UIGEA goes into effect? The UIGEA is in effect -- it became law on October 13, 2006 when the bill was signed by President Bush. Yet I keep reading and hearing people who theoretically know something about online poker claiming the law doesn’t really mean anything until this summer. Fred Mourey, the host of Joe Average Poker, has made this mistake about once per show since October. On the 1/16/07 episode, he again asked co-hosts Robin Farley and Charlie Knox to confirm his understanding. “The actual legislation still has not gone into effect, right?” he asked. “No,” answered Farley, “I believe that’s on July 10th . . . that’s the final date the banks have . . . .”

There was an equally frustrating conversation about the Neteller situation and the UIGEA on The Circuit this week (during the 1/21/07 episode). According to guest co-host Jon Friedberg, “there is a 270-day grace period from the day the bill got signed which I think was early November, or late October or something . . . ? So there’s still a good, you know, six, seven months or whatever that time frame is that Neteller and the U.S. financial institutions are legally allowed to continue conducting transactions . . . .” “Right,” agreed host Konan Luce.

Wrong. Among other things, the Act outlines how “designated payment systems” and “financial transaction providers” (meaning banks, credit card companies, or any other money transfer system) have been given 270 days from the date the bill is signed to implement measures to stop money from going to online gambling sites. To be even more specific, federal regulators have been given those 270 days to forward to banks, credit card companies, and money transfer systems guidelines for policing against transactions related to online gambling. (Whether such guidelines will be delivered on time is unclear.) In other words, there is no “grace period” here. The law is in effect. Anyone breaking the law after October 13, 2006 is at risk of being prosecuted. (Unless the law is repealed or amended, that is.)

“How much information is hidden and how much is available greatly affects the interest and playability of a game,” says Harrington. About sums it up, I’d say.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Canary in the Coalmine?

Wheeeee!!!!Had a fairly rocky session this afternoon, but overall the month continues to be profitable. Was two-tabling over on Absolute Poker for awhile. When one of my $1.00/$2.00 6-max limit tables started to break up, I hunted around for another and saw one with two players seated. I opened up the table and eavesdropped for a few hands, noticing that one player -- let’s call him ArmaggedonMan -- was doing what appeared to be an inordinate amount of raising. Indeed, every pot in this heads-up battle seemed to be at least $20 (ten big bets).

Finally I saw ArmaggedonMan show down a jack-high hand (with two queens and an ace on the board). I grabbed a seat faster than Chuck Norris.

(For those unaware, Chuck Norris is so fast he can run around the world and punch himself in the back of the head. Learn more over at Chuck Norris Facts.)

The table soon filled up and I marvelled at how ArmaggedonMan continued to raise each and every time the action was on him. By the time I got there, his original $50 had dwindled to $29.12. He was getting so much action, though, that when he did hit a few hands he got paid royally. Pretty soon -- I mean within a dozen hands -- he was up around $80. He rammed a pocket pair of deuces through a Q4J35 board to take another medium-sized pot. I tangled with him a couple of times, losing both times. Then I ended up seeing a flop with him and two other players. I had As4s, and had to call three bets to get to the flop which came 3sAc7d. ArmageddonMan bet from early position, I called, and a third player called. The turn was the 5s and ArmageddonMan bet again. With my top pair, nut flush draw, and gutshot straight draw, I decided this time to raise. The third player got out of the way, and the two of us ended up capping it. The river was a much-appreciated 9s. ArmageddonMan check-called, and I took the $33.00 pot.

What did he have? KdJh.

Finally his stack started to dwindle again, and before long he was felted. But wait! Reload! ArmaggedonMan has $50 more! Again he comes with the crazy preflop, flop, and turn raises -- usually followed by a river call and the toss of his cards into the muck. I’ve played with crazies like ArmaggedonMan before, but something told me this was different. Whenever I’d previously encountered this kind of player, the gear-shift downward would usually come eventually, after which the crazy would wait for real hands and enjoy increased action as a result of his maniacal image. But ArmaggedonMan . . . he just kept going. Calling off $20 a hand with no pair, no draw. Highly enjoyable. But a little eerie, as well.

After about 60 hands of this, someone at the table finally couldn’t help himself and began commenting on what was happening. ArmaggedonMan had just won a $27 pot with A8 when he spiked an ace on the river to beat his opponent’s pocket tens. “OMG,” typed the loser. “You won!” “He can’t lose every hand,” typed another. “That’s impossible.” The loser continued, berating ArmaggedonMan for playing “any two.”

I knew once the chat started up that the carnival would be over soon. Indeed, a couple more orbits and ArmaggedonMan had fled.

Once he had reloaded for the third time, I started wondering if perhaps what I was witnessing might not be unrelated to Neteller having pulled out last week. I checked and ArmaggedonMan did appear to have listed an American city as his hometown. Was this his alternative -- albeit improvident -- method of removing the funds from his account? Here are his final stats for the session (click to enlarge) . . . you tell me if this is someone in his right mind:

And you thought you were a donkey . . .

What he lost in those 76 hands nearly equals what I’m currently nursing there in my Absolute account! Could’ve been a high roller, I suppose, just donking off chump change for some weird kick. Unlikely, though. Should we read ArmaggedonMan's disturbing session as the equivalent of watching a canary be overcome by toxic fumes in the coalmine, advance notice for all of us that this baby is about to blow . . . ?

Personally, I prefer to interpret ArmaggedonMan’s behavior as a self-immolation-style protest, perhaps timed to coincide with tonight’s State of the Union address.

Godspeed, ArmaggedonMan!


Monday, January 22, 2007

Fact Finding

A couple of posts back, my buddy cadmunkey asked me what I thought the United States government’s “grand master plan” with regard to regulating online gambling might be.

“Send more troops?” I responded. I thought I was joking.

Turns out the U.S. Department of Justice has fired subpoenas to at least 16 of the world’s most prominent banking institutions and accounting firms asking them to hand over information related to particular individuals’ involvement with online gambling. The DOJ is requesting copies of all business records, correspondence, and emails related to internet gambling transactions. Apparently the subpoenas were issued three weeks ago, but only now have these requests for information been made public. Initial articles identified four banks -- the HSBC (headquartered in London), Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein (London & Frankfurt), Credit Suisse (Zurich), and the Deutsche Bank Aktiengesellschaft (Frankfurt). I’ve seen references to BDO Stoy Hayward (London) and Investec (London & Johannesburg) also being among the institutions issued subpoenas.

In Jenny Davey’s Times of London article (where the story first broke), her source speaks of how the “Department of Justice has taken a shotgun, not a rifle approach in relation to lots of gaming companies and has just asked everyone to hand over all the information they have.” Another source describes the DOJ’s actions as representing one of the biggest “fishing expeditions” the department has ever undertaken.

What could all of this mean to me, an American online poker player? Have to admit I am mostly in the dark here. I know, for instance, that DKW is connected with PartyGaming -- they “floated” the company when it went onto the LSE in 2005. (Investec had considered doing so as well, but bowed out.) HSBC similarly floated the same year when it went public. If these banks do comply and hand over the requested documents to American officials, could this spell trouble for those companies and their founders? (Not-too-distant-future headline: “Dikshit Up Creek Without a Paddle” . . . ?)

Obviously I’m not playing on either Party Poker or Pacific, so does the fate of these companies matter to me? What about the sites on which I do play? Might it be that some of the institutions who had been issued subpoenas were banks whose services are utilized by my poker sites? None of my sites -- Poker Stars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, and Bodog -- are publicly-traded companies, so none were similarly “floated” by any of the banks being questioned. But they do deal with banks, don’t they?

Prior to “Black Friday” (that October day when the Senate tied the UIGEA tin can to the Safe Port Act bumper) several sites proudly advertised details regarding how they kept player balances in segregated accounts. Most sites even identified their bankers. Poker Stars frequently mentioned how players’ balances were “held in segregated accounts managed by the Royal Bank of Scotland” so as to assure us Poker Stars was not using or investing our money and could “fulfill its obligations towards players at all times.”

Then the hammer fell. A day or two before Bush signed the bill into law, the Royal Bank of Scotland instructed its corporate customers to refrain from accepting online gaming transactions from American customers. (Article here.) Not sure, exactly, how this affected Poker Stars’ relationship with the RBS. (Sounded a lot like a kiss-off, to me.) I do know that around mid-October Poker Stars stopped referring to the RBS in its communications, and instead started stating more generically that “All player funds are kept in a segregated account at a leading European bank.”

Just to satisfy my curiosity, I thought I’d see what my four sites could tell me about which banks they used to hold player balances.

Couldn’t find any information anywhere on the Bodog site about whether or not they held players’ balances in segregated accounts. I emailed them the question, and they quickly responded “Bodog is not directly involved with any bank or bank accounts.” Simple enough. (And a little surprising, frankly.)

I also emailed Absolute Poker my question, but they have yet to get back to me. On their website, Absolute says that “all player account balances are held in segregated accounts, which are managed by a leading European Financial Institution.” Absolute is a bit cheeky about identifying that institution -- instead of naming it on the site, they explain it “is the second largest Financial Services group in Europe by market capitalization and the sixth largest in the world.” That would have to be the Royal Bank of Scotland. (But didn’t the RBS ask its corporate customers not to facilitate Americans’ online gambling transactions? Is this information accurate?)

On its website, Full Tilt Poker ensures customers “there is adequate financing available to pay all current obligations and that working capital is adequate to finance ongoing operations.” It isn’t clear, however, whether they keep the money themselves or use a bank. When I emailed them, my support person couldn’t answer my question. Nor could he get my name right (“Hello Jerry,” he began, though Jerry I ain’t). At least he was honest: “I am not able to find that information as it is not available to me at this time. I am sorry I could not help you further with this inquiry.”

As I said, Poker Stars has stopped referring to RBS specifically. In their answer to my email, they refer obliquely to my question: “In regards to your concern, we do not have any problems with our banks and their cheques being cashed in the U.S. I can assure you that you will not have any problems cashing our cheques if you go to a major bank and not a credit union. We work with several banks and none of them have any restrictions in the U.S.” Not sure, really, how exactly to interpret this response. Now that I reread it, I realize they aren’t answering my question at all. Also sounds like I’ll have problems trying to cash a check from Poker Stars at anything other than a “major bank.” (Not reassuring.)

So what have I learned from my investigations? Not much, I guess. I wanted to find out how to interpret the news I was hearing this week about the Department of Justice and its subpoenas, but instead I learned that none of the poker sites on which I play seem to want me to know with much specificity exactly how they are handling my money. Before the UIGEA passed, sharing such information was often part of sites’ overall strategy to assure me of their integrity. Now, however, I am met with something less than full disclosure.

I am not saying I do not trust the sites with my money. I am saying, however, that (for whatever reason) they seem no longer as able to be completely open with me regarding what they are doing with the money sitting in my accounts on their sites.

Perhaps the DOJ’s subpoenas don’t have much to do with me, specifically. It’s unclear, in fact, whether they have anything to do with the banks and firms receiving the subpoenas -- none have said whether or not they intend to comply with the requests for information.

The subpoenas do indicate one thing, however. Pretty damn clearly. The U.S. government is on the offensive when it comes to policing online gambling. And one gets the sense that, as in other contexts, “failure is not an option.”


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Anyone Else Feeling Stuck?

First hand you are in the big blind and get dealt ace-queen. A couple of limpers, you raise, and five of you end up seeing the flop of A28. End up battling it out with one of the late position guys and lose a medium-sized pot to his ace-deuce. So you start out down 5 big bets or so.

You sit tight for awhile, mostly because you aren’t picking up any playable cards. Finally you get JdTd in late position and get to see a flop. A couple of diamonds come out and you eagerly raise the early bettor. The flush comes in on the turn and he check-calls your bet. A blank on the river, another check-call, and he turns over Qd5d. You’re down 15 big bets.

Now you start pressing, playing hands from late position with any king, cold-calling preflop raises with any two suited, etc. Without even getting to the turn in a hand you’re suddenly down 35 big bets. You’re reeling. You should probably just pack it in, but you want to get it back. You’re stuck -- figuratively and literally.

Kind of how this week has gone for us American online players. Started with a cold deck. (What’s happening? Just a bump in the road. Play through, it’ll be fine.) Then more misfortune, followed by a rapid deterioration in the stability of our game. (Can I continue here? Has this become a negative EV situation for me?) The weekend has come, and I think most of us are starting to recognize we are indeed stuck.

The cold deck came Monday with the arrests of Neteller’s founders and the company hastily pulling out of the U.S. market. As the week progressed, other third-party vendor options for us Yanks started disappearing as well. Citadel bowed out on Tuesday, only hours after Neteller’s exit. CentralCoin, another potential option, has had a worrisome message on its site since Thursday explaining it is “currently not operational.” Not good. But not enough to have made us think we couldn’t get it all back. We stayed at the table. This’ll correct itself somehow, we thought.

A few panicked, of course. But many instead chose to reassure each other on blogs and forums that all would be well. Ever since Neteller announced way back on October 19th its intention to comply with the UIGEA, we all knew its days were numbered. Few seemed particularly worried, though. “There will be other options,” we told each other, like the player who’s behind realizing he still has outs.

Bodog emailed me early in the week to let me know I could still use services like Click2Pay to fund my account. Absolute and Full Tilt Poker also eventually sent me emails directing me to their websites where they also recommended Click2Pay (among other methods). I wondered whether I should consider opening an account there. Yesterday (1/19/07) I read an article over on Poker News and another on CardPlayer recommending alternatives to Neteller, including Click2Pay. Sounds like the way to go, I thought to myself . . . .

Sort of like that K9-offsuit from middle position sounds like the way to go when you’re desperate to dig your way back.

Surfing around this morning, I discover Click2Pay is no longer accepting U.S. customers either. This news comes after (probably) thousands of players rushed over to open accounts during the week. At this moment (11 a.m. Eastern standard time), it isn’t clear whether those who have opened accounts will be able to use them to transfer funds to and from poker sites or not. Or for how long.

The player’s brain begins to fog up amid all of the contradictory information. How to act correctly, here? Currently ePassporte appears the most popular alternative left standing, but thanks to all the chaos I know I can’t play that hand confidently. It’s like after all the bad beats and crappy play, I get dealt something like AJ-off in middle position. What the hell do I do?

Luckily I’m not too concerned about the modest amount of cabbage I’ve currently got spread around those four sites on which I play. For the time being, though, I know I won’t be moving any of those moneys around (or to my bank account). Guess I’ll just sit here and keep playing.

Those alarms going off every few hours are damn distracting, though. You guys hear ’em, too? Are you able to concentrate . . . ?


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Playing Without a Net(eller)

As you’ve no doubt heard, Neteller is no longer an option for us American players when it comes to moving funds to and from online poker sites. Sometime yesterday (around 7 p.m., Eastern standard time, I believe), Neteller posted a “U.S. Member Update” on its site announcing that “Due to recent US legislative changes and events, effective immediately, US members are no longer able to transfer funds to or from any online gambling sites.”

I had heard the news about two of Neteller’s founders and former executives -- Steve Lawrence and John Lefebvre -- getting pinched by the FBI on Monday for money laundering conspiracy. I read the articles on sites like Poker News, Pokerati, and CardPlayer explaining how the arrests were not necessarily related to the UIGEA’s passage back in October. Rather, the pair (neither of whom are “officially” with Neteller anymore) were apparently being charged for activities that violated the old 1961 Wire Act -- i.e., not for anything associated with the new legislation. As Amy Calistri explained in her article, the charge concerns Neteller facilitating transactions between U.S. customers and offshore sports books.

I then heard about Neteller’s decision no longer to allow InstaCash transactions for U.S. customers. This happened sometime Tuesday, I believe. InstaCash allows members to transfer funds from their bank accounts into Neteller and then access those funds immediately (i.e., before the transaction has been cleared by the members’ banks). The option made it easier for Americans to fire their moneys into poker sites without delay.

I actually never used InstaCash, and so wasn’t that concerned about this news. As I’ve written about before here, I made an initial deposit (of $50) into Neteller about two-and-a-half years ago, moved that over to Poker Stars, and haven’t had to reload since. I’ve withdrawn a lot via Neteller, of course. And I’ve also used Neteller frequently to move moneys from one site to another. But I’ve never had to worry about sending funds in the other direction (i.e., from my bank to Neteller).

I kept reading around, following the “sky is falling” threads on the 2+2 Forums and checking in on my favorite blogs. Bill Rini’s blog has been particularly informative, with several posts here lately detailing current goings-on. Early yesterday he posted that he interpreted the cancelling of InstaCash as a precursor to Neteller pulling out of the U.S. market entirely, and so advised those of us with funds in Neteller either to go ahead and move it into our bank accounts or stick it back into a poker site, if desired.

After reading Bill’s blog, I went over to Full Tilt where I had a fairly low balance (under $100). I haven’t been playing on FTP much lately, and so wasn’t really too concerned about not having the funds to play my current limits comfortably. I hopped on a table and endured a miserable sequence of hands in a full ring, $1.00/$2.00 limit game. I realized I was getting low and so got out. I had $100 sitting over in Neteller (withdrawn from Bodog a few days before) and so taking Bill’s advice I decided to replenish the Full Tilt account with it. About an hour later came the news that Neteller would no longer allow such transactions. So I owe a thanks to Bill for the heads-up.

At the moment I currently have accounts on four sites -- Poker Stars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, and Bodog. Taken together, I have an adequate bankroll to be playing $1.00/$2.00 (limit); however, the money is divided among the four sites in such a way that if I were to experience a bad run on one of them I would have to drop down or risk bottoming out on that particular site.

All of which is to say I’m experiencing three varieties of frustration at the moment.

One is a general, unfocused anger about the UIGEA and the U.S. government’s desire to act as the moral police. I’m mad as a box of frogs about this bill and its effect on me. Last post I wrote with enthusiasm about the new poker books I had recently purchased. I am interested in further cultivating this skill I’ve been working on for some years now, and so look forward to the challenges and pleasures those books represent for me. The fact is, poker is an important part of my life. I receive a tremendous amount of enjoyment and satisfaction playing poker, reading and learning about poker, and interacting with others who do the same. And while I understand poker does involve gambling -- it is, frankly, “a game based on chance” -- I am not one who gambles recklessly. I am also an adult, hardly in need of Uncle Sam to chaperone me through the dangerous labyrinth of $1.00/$2.00 limit hold ’em.

A second frustration concerns how events seem to be playing out so dramatically without reasonable advance notice to those of us being affected. As customers of a service whose legal status is ambiguous, we get treated like crap (and, generally, we don’t complain). When the UIGEA first passed, those poker sites that pulled out of the U.S. market did so with little or no advance notice. Firepay bailed in a similar fashion. Then Neteller blares its “Effective Immediately” announcement. And, as I read over on Bill's blog, Citadel has similarly backed out without notice. I suppose there are legal reasons why poker sites and these third-party vendors cannot be open with us about what may or may not happen down the road. Nevertheless, it would be nice to be treated with a little respect. Of the four sites on which I play, only Bodog has sent me any sort of communication regarding Neteller. (It is early -- I’m writing this only 12 hours or so after Neteller’s announcement.) Now that I think about it, Neteller didn’t email me either. If everyone knows events like Neteller’s pulling out are going to happen, why can’t we avoid such unsettling, stress-inducing moments like happened last night (and before)?

My third source of anxiety is related to my bankroll issue alluded to above. I mentioned last post how I’d ordered Tom Schneider’s book Oops! I Won Too Much Money: Winning Wisdom from the Boardroom to the Poker Table. It arrived yesterday and I started reading the first few chapters. He has one called “Are You the Tortoise or the Hare?” where he makes a point about personality types and how we all must recognize our own “racing strategy” -- in life or at the tables. Like Schneider, I’m “a confirmed tortoise.” I’m willing to take it slow, and if I have to drop back down a level in order to preserve my balance in each of the sites I’m more than willing to do so. The fact that Firepay, Neteller, and Citadel are no longer available certainly means depositing into poker sites is going to be a big hassle. Withdrawing won’t be easy, either, although my sense is it will be relatively less burdensome. While I’m hoping not to have to worry about the depositing issue, I will be affected here. Significantly. With no new players coming in, the games will necessarily become more difficult. When I sit at a typical 10-handed $1.00/$2.00 table these days, I’m reasonably certain that there are a few players at the table who haven’t as much experience or skill as I do -- indeed, sometimes, there will be only one other player whom I can readily identify as worrisome. Moving forward, I anticipate the percentage of good players to rise fairly dramatically. And that’s gonna make it harder for me to continue to earn moneys, I suspect.

Indeed, if I do bust out of one of these sites, that may be it for me at that site (given my conservative approach). And that might prove be the case for a lot of players -- when the well runs dry . . . well . . . bye-bye.

Stay tuned.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007


The Hard-Boiled Poker Library and Media CenterThe Hard-Boiled Poker Library and Media Center is undergoing significant expansion. Between the Xmas bunny and Poker Source Online, I’m due to receive six new poker books this week.

The books I am receiving via PSO are thanks to my having opened that Bodog account through them a couple of weeks ago. I completed the requirement (to accumulate 200 Bodog points -- not such a tall order), notified PSO that I had, and within a day or so they sent a message telling me the three books they had promised are on the way. From them I’m getting a copy of the original Super System (never owned, though I read a borrowed copy long ago), Super System 2 (have read excerpts, but most is new to me), and David Sklansky’s Hold ‘em for Advanced Players (which repeats some material from other Sklansky books, I think). Now that I think of it, all three of these books contain material I’ve encountered before, but I haven’t had any of ’em sitting here on the shelf to consult and reread.

The other three books I ordered through Amazon with a gift certificate. A couple have already arrived: No Limit Hold ‘em: Theory and Practice by Sklansky and Ed Miller and The Mathematics of Poker by Bill Chen and Jerrod Ankenman.

I’m particularly curious about the Chen/Ankenman book. If you were to pick it up in the bookstore and flip through, all of the graphs and equations probably wouldn’t create a favorable first impression. Even so, I’m gonna go ahead and accept the authors’ claim in the introduction that “the vast majority of the book should be understandable to anyone who has completed high school algebra.” (That’s me -- I hit the calculus wall sometime afterwards.) I can be damn stubborn when it comes to working my way through something difficult like this, so I’m up for the challenge.

The NLH book I will save for later. Have no plans, really, to stop playing limit, but I do want to learn more about NL so as to be somewhat informed when I take the occasional plunge.

The third book I ordered from Amazon was Tom Schneider’s Oops! I Won Too Much Money: Winning Wisdom from the Boardroom to the Poker Table. I’ve become acquainted with Schneider’s wisdom (and wit) via Beyond the Table, a podcast I always look forward to each week. My understanding is that the book contains a number of anecdotes from Schneider’s experience both as a professional high-stakes poker player and in the business world. (Among his extensive corporate experience, Schneider was the Chief Financial Officer of a couple of different companies specializing in golf equipment, even serving as President of one of them.) This isn’t the sort of poker book I’d normally seek out, but I’ve really enjoyed listening to Schneider on the show where he’ll occasionally share some of the stories and/or bits of advice that appear in the book. He’s also way funnier than your average Marmaduke cartoon, so I’m looking forward to enjoying a laugh or two amid the teachings. (Review to come.)

Have to say my experience with Poker Source Online has been very positive thus far. I wrote before about signing up over at Absolute Poker where I was able to start out with a $50 bankroll entirely donated by PSO. And while I’m no longer trying to play the affiliate game with poker sites, I went ahead and signed up as an affiliate with PSO. If you’re interested in free goodies -- i.e., cash, books and other poker-related items, rakeback -- click through via the link I’ve added under “Other Poker Links” and sign on up. Or just click here. And while yr at it go ahead and type in “shamus” in the “referred by” box whenever asked. It’ll be like the Xmas bunny never left.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Poker Podcast World

Poker Podcast WorldHave added a new poker podcast to my regular roster (that makes 11 now), something called Poker Podcast World. I’ve only listened to a handful of episodes, so I’m not entirely up on the history of the show or all of the details. I like what I’ve heard, though, and so wanted to pass along a few thoughts about the show.

The host is an Australian fellow who goes by the name of Synergy. (His real name is Dan, I think.) Synergy is quite likable, has a good sense of humor, and does a nice job discussing the various subjects that make up the shows. I gather he’s an amateur player with a sincere interest in the game (including the professional circuit). (He humbly refers to himself a “poker groupie” at one place on the website.) His American-born wife, Ellen, is a professional poker player who sometimes plays in big circuit tournaments. The Poker Podcast World blog not only includes the podcasts, but also a well-managed forum that hosts a few hundred participants.

The shows don’t appear to be produced according to any set schedule. Sometimes there will be multiple shows in one week; sometimes a month will go by with no show. I’m counting around two dozen shows total during the 7-8 months they’ve been producing them. The shows are generally of modest length (from 5-15 minutes). There’s no intro music or other elaborate post-production supplements, either. Rather, episodes usually consist of Synergy humbly recording his various observations and comments sans ornament, except perhaps a little background music to set the mood. (And no commercials!)

Synergy and Ellen enjoy a few connections within the professional scene, and some of the shows feature brief, candid interviews with players and other prominent figures. Back in August 2006, Synergy offered a thoughtful commentary about the UIGEA and its possible impact (some two months before it was passed). On that show Synergy talks about the current situation in Australia -- where a similar bill was passed a few years ago. The show also includes interviews he conducted at the 2006 WSOP with Annie Duke, Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer, and PPA President Michael Bolcerek.

The couple are friends with Max Shapiro, the humor columnist for CardPlayer, and have had him on the show. They’ve also employed Shapiro as an interviewer, and so some of the guests who appear on the show have done so thanks to Shapiro having brought them on. Shapiro’s interview with Keep Flopping Aces’ Lou Krieger (from last July) -- his first for the show -- is particularly worth a listen. (By the way, ’bout time for Keep Flopping Aces to come back with a new episode!) (EDIT [added 1/17/07]: KPA did their first show of the year on 1/11; just turned up in my Juice queue when I checked today.) Shapiro’s recent interviews with pro player Bernard Lee (12/28/06) and WSOP tourney director Jack Effel (1/3/07) are good as well.

If you’re looking to add any shows to your podcast queue, you might consider Poker Podcast World. Here’s the RSS feed address. Synergy and Ellen are currently at the Aussie Millions and producing shows from there, so this might be an interesting source of info about that event. A nice alternative, actually, to the new Circuit, about which the less said the better.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Nice Pot

Back to the tables. Thanks for your patience while I worked my way through those posts about The Cincinnati Kid. If you haven’t seen the film and get a chance to in the near future, come on back and read those posts and tell me whether or not I’m full of applesauce.

Have been playing on the $1.00/$2.00 limit tables almost exclusively here in the new year (only sitting at a $0.50/$1.00 table when waiting for a seat at the higher stakes table). Am consciously trying to choose full ring (10-player) games, although I’ll almost always sit down at a 6-max whenever there isn’t a seat open at a full ring game. Been playing mostly on Bodog from which I cannot import hand histories into Poker Tracker (not unless I pick up that DogWatch program, which I’m not sure I want to do). Poker Source Online should be sending me some books soon now that I have cleared the requirements -- if I followed those sign-up directions correctly, that is.

Even with Poker Tracker, I always additionally manually record into my little black book info about every session I play (the site, game/limit, hands played, time played, win/loss). Looking at these first twelve days of the new year -- lemme get out my calculator, here -- I’ve played almost 600 hands on 6-max tables & about three times that on full ring tables (nearly 1,800). I’ve earned about the same on each, actually -- a little over 30 big bets (or $60) at 6-max and almost the same amount at full ring. That’s a heady 5 BB/100 hands on 6-max, and about 1.67 BB/100 hands on full ring. A meaningless sample size, I know. Still, a good start for the year, I think. Bodog be good so far. (More on that later.)

Most of my sessions have been brief -- less than a 100 hands. Had a couple of marathons in there where I got stuck and battled back (or didn’t). But for the most part I’ve been playing hit-and-run, usually booking small wins. I’m also almost always playing just one table. Occasionally I’ll open up a second one if at a very slow full-ring game, but I’ve tried mainly to stick to the formula that’s proven most successful for me -- brief, single-table sessions where I’m able to concentrate on every decision I make.

I still make mistakes, of course. Having a hard time playing middle or low pairs out of position, particularly when heads-up against a preflop raiser. Have also gotten involved in a few expensive chases when essentially drawing dead. Barry Tanenbaum talks about how he’ll get up from a table once he’s made two clear mistakes in his play. If I were to get up at that point, my sessions probably wouldn’t last a half-hour.

Have become fairly well acclimated to playing the larger pots, I think. I’ve lost some big ones (by my short-stacked standards), and won a few, too. A couple of days ago I won a pot that exceeded $50 and realized afterwards that it was probably the largest pot I’d ever taken down. A semi-curious hand, actually . . . here’s how it went:

I’d been at this 6-max table for a short while and wasn’t running too well -- couple of folks had made their draws against me, I’d failed to make mine, etc. Was down about $25 or so for that particular session when I picked up KdKs in the big blind. Always nice to get cowboys, but awkward sometimes in the BB where you’re last to act preflop. My losing image (deserved or not) didn’t help either.

Jambon raised from UTG, and Pamplemousse immediately reraised. I fastened my seatbelt. It folded to Fromage in the small blind who called the three bets. I contemplated capping, but decided just to call as well. Correct or no? I couldn’t see what capping would accomplish here other than to give the table a pretty clear idea of my holding. Four players in. $11.50 in the pot (Bodog had already taken fifty cents for the rake at this point).

The flop was 4d3d5h. Fromage checked and I bet out. The subsequent action was intriguing: Jambon raised, Pamplemousse three-bet, and Fromage called the three bets. I figured both Jambon and Pamplemousse to hold overpairs, and Fromage probably to be drawing, perhaps with two diamonds or maybe even with just an ace. I went ahead and capped it this time, and all three stayed in.

The turn was the Ts. I liked that card and so put out my $2.00 bet. This time Jambon just called and Pamplemousse raised. Fromage again called. Could well be up against aces, I thought -- or did Pamplemousse turn a set? -- so I just called (as did Jambon). The pot had ballooned to $43.00 (Bodog had taken a dollar).

The river was the 8s. No flushes. Probably no straights, either, unless somebody had weirdly waded in with ace-deuce. We checked it around to Pamplemousse who bet out again. Predictably -- we were all getting better than 22-to-1 now -- all three of us called. Pamplemousse showed QhQd. Yes! Fromage showed AsKh. Sweet! I show my kings. And Jambon mucks his 6c6h. The cowboys had survived.

The hand doesn’t demonstrate much more than my good fortune, really. Fromage (with big slick) was probably the only player who made obvious mistakes, but even so, he was still drawing live on the river. I would have certainly slowed down with queens there if I were Pamplemousse, but I wouldn’t have folded, that’s for sure. Kind of the perfect storm for me -- everyone had a reason to stay to the end, but no one had more than just a few outs to beat me. In the end, I only had to put in $13 to win the $51 pot.

As I mentioned, Bodog has worked out pretty well for me thus far. While I dislike not having hand histories to enter into my database, I’m starting to think it might not be such a bad thing to play on a site where it is a bit more difficult for players to track your play. I was surfing around looking for information about alternative methods of dealing with Bodog hand histories when I stumbled onto this recent thread on the Flop Turn River forums. Someone in there suggests that not being Poker Tracker-friendly makes Bodog a more attractive site on which to play. Someone else cites how the games on Pacific Poker became more difficult as soon as they started making it easier to enter your data from there into PT. (The fact that Bodog limits folks to three tables at a time may also have something to do with the overall quality of player one tends to encounter.)

An interesting theory, I thought. Whaddya think . . . anything to it? Or just more applesauce?


Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Last Hand of The Cincinnati Kid: Differences Between the Novel and Film

In the film, the Kid plays the last hand much more solidly than he does in the novel(Warning: If you’ve not seen or read The Cincinnati Kid and plan to, you might skip this here post as it gives away the ending.)

“In poker terms, the hand is a joke. But even in movie terms, there is no evident moral in the way things turn out.”

That’s what Anthony Holden says about the final hand of The Cincinnati Kid (the film) in his excellent autobiographical work Big Deal: Confessions of a Professional Poker Player. Holden refers both to the astronomical odds against such a hand being dealt (“The odds against any full house beating any straight flush, in a two-handed game, are 45,102,784 to 1” says Holden) as well as to the unlikelihood that skillful players would in real life have actually played the hand the way they do in the film (Holden believes the Man would’ve necessarily folded to The Kid’s third street bet).

Others have analyzed the hand more successfully than I ever could, so I’m not really going to try that here. Holden’s discussion is enlightening. Michael Wiesenberg has also written about the hand on several occasions, most recently in a CardPlayer column last summer. A few weeks after Wiesenberg’s column appeared, Roy Cooke also weighed in with an analysis. Wiesenberg and Cooke agree the hand (as it occurs in the film) is improbable, but both ultimately defend the players’ betting as at least within the realm of possibility (if unorthodox). Read their columns to see what they say about the hand (and other issues of interest, e.g., the string bets, the fact that they don’t seem to be playing table stakes, etc.).

Rather than try to match wits with these pros, I just wanted to make one small observation about the way the filmmakers changed the hand from what happens in Richard Jessup’s novel. The changes are minor, but significant (in my view), and perhaps help explain what the filmmakers are up to as far as conveying an overall message or theme is concerned. Here’s a quick run down of the action (first the film version, then the novel version), distilled into hand histories:

(I hope my math is correct and I’m being accurate here. If anyone sees any mistakes or obvious misrepresentations, please let me know.)

It appears to me that the film version deliberately changes the hand so as to make the Kid’s play appear more acceptable and the Man’s play less so. In Jessup’s novel, the Kid makes a much smaller bet on fourth street than he does in the film. In the novel, the Kid bets only $1,000 into a $5,820 pot, giving the Man almost 7-to-1 to call. In the film, the Kid at this point bets $3,000 into a $5,000 pot, making the Man’s call quite a bit more sketchy. Additionally, the narrator in Jessup’s novel tells us how the Kid suspects as early as third street that Lancey is going for a straight flush. So when the Man does end up with that scary 7h8hTh9h board, we see the Kid essentially talking himself out of his original read and betting (and taking the Man’s marker and calling the Man’s raise) anyway. Jessup portrays the Kid here as not only outchipped, but outmanned (as it were). The Man got lucky, to be sure, but it is clear that in the novel we are to understand the Kid is in over his head. The Man outplayed him.

In the film, the Kid seems to have played the hand much more solidly, and certainly better than Lancey does. The Man’s reckless call on fourth street makes it look like he’s no longer trying to outplay the Kid, but has decided to gamble. In the film, when we get to the river there is only one possible down card the Man could have that beats the Kid (not two), making it seem even more likely to the Kid that he’s correct to think he’s “got the Man!” In my view, the Kid’s play in the film -- especially on fourth and fifth streets -- is clearly better than in the novel.

All of which makes it seem even more unfair when the Man spikes that Jd and beats the Kid. Holden is right -- there is no “evident moral” here. A lot of poker players have a problem with that, but I think they’re missing the point. I believe the filmmakers’ altered that last hand from Jessup’s version so as to make it seem even more improbable. And unfair. In other words, the very criticism poker players make of the hand -- that it is a “joke” that is too unlikely to be believed -- ignores the possibility that the improbability and/or unfairness of the hand particularly suits the overall theme or “message” of the film.

I think changes in the hand show the filmmakers wanted explicitly to challenge the notion that in life (and/or in poker) there is no such thing as an “evident moral.”

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