Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Grifters

'The Grifters' (1963) by Jim ThompsonWas sitting at a LHE 1/2 table not too long ago where I witnessed a mildly interesting hand occur, followed by some slightly more interesting chat-box banter. The hand went like this: a player in EP open-raised and had just one caller. The flop came 9h6d4s and the raiser bet and was called. The turn was the Tc. Again, bet-call. The river was the 8d and yet again we saw a bet and a call. The EP raiser showed KcQc for king-high. The calling station showed Ac7d for a rivered gutshot.

There was a bit of generic whimpering from Mr. King-Queen (“did u even know u had it,” “idiot”). Within a few hands the river rat had already lost his booty (and then some) via similarly passive, low percentage plays. After a while, K-Q typed “like a sea gull eats up my seeds poops em out all over the table.”

The situation put me in mind of the opening scene of Jim Thompson’s 1963 hard-boiled novel The Grifters. The book begins with Roy Dillon pulling what should have been a fairly conventional hustle of a dim-witted soda jerk at an L.A. confectionary. I say should have been because as it turns out, the “large, dumpy-looking youth of perhaps nineteen or twenty” working behind the counter ends up giving Dillon a bit more trouble than he had anticipated.

Thompson describes the scam to us as “the twenties, one of the standard gimmicks of the short con grift.” Other gimmicks potentially land larger scores, but apparently “the twenties” is a safer way to go. Usually.

Having finished his limeade, Dillon goes to pay the kid whom he’s sized up as the underachieving son of the shop’s proprietor. “A package of those mints, too,” says Dillon. “Twenty cents,” the youth replies.

Dillon fumbles for a moment, then with an apology pulls a bill from his wallet. “Mind cashing a twenty?” The kid counts out his change and hands it to Dillon, who then animatedly claims he’s finally located deep inside his pocket two dimes. He hands the coins over, saying “Just give me back my twenty, will you?” The youth obliges.

Standing at the front of the soda shop idly looking at a magazine in the rack, Dillon is stunned when the clerk suddenly whacks him in the stomach with a baseball bat, yelling “Dirty crook!” A short time later, a woozy Dillon is described “seated in his car and re-examining the incident.”

“He could see no reason to fault himself, no flaw in his technique,” explains the narrator. “It was just bad luck. He’d simply caught a goof, and goofs couldn’t be figured.”

We’re constantly instructed “bad players cannot be bluffed” and the like. And we’ve all been there. Against the “goofs,” surprise bets don’t surprise. Spooky check-raises don’t spook. And bluffs aren’t read as strength. Or as bluffs. They simply aren’t read at all.

I have to assume that in the hand described above, Mr. King-Queen didn’t know he was dealing with a “goof” who’d call down with such a hand (even though he was ahead from start to finish). For K-Q to keep firing from out of position was certainly stubborn, but as his comments afterwards showed, he didn’t see any “reason to fault” his own play nor any “flaw in his technique.” He’d just saw himself as having unfortunately run into a “goof.”

One other point of comparison here, though. Something of which neither Roy Dillon nor Mr. King-Queen seem especially conscious.

Both are theives -- are grifters -- attempting to take something that never rightly belonged to them. While it is true that “goofs” can’t “be figured,” it is also true that when trying to steal something that isn’t yours, getting caught and punished should never be all that startling of an occurrence.

Can’t recommend The Grifters enough, by the way. Adapted into a slick film by Stephen Frears back in 1990, also worthwhile. Full of lessons for anyone out there trying to pick up a few pennies -- or twenties -- via the grift. (In other words, all of youse.)


Friday, September 28, 2007

Kings in Peril, a Limit Hold ’em puzzler (2 of 2)

Machiavelli with kingsAs if to prove -- as we were talking about last post -- that it is indeed a Machiavellian world at the poker tables, let me share a little bit of chat from a pot limit Omaha session I played two days ago.

Had been playing with the same bunch for a while when a new guy sat down to my left. After a couple of rounds, new guy pipes up in the chat box:

greenhorn: can somebody tell me rules

Twenty or thirty seconds go by. Then, finally, someone offers to help out:

MockTurtle: dont steal , respect your wife and god
Dealer: greenhorn has 15 seconds left to act
MockTurtle: dont try to $&$! your neighboors wife

A minute or so, later:

DbtngThom: god is dead
MockTurtle: he asked for rules

Okay, back to the hand . . . .

To recap, after losing with pocket kings five times running in my usual LH 1/2 game (over the course of a couple of sessions), I found myself on the button having been dealt KdKh. A player two to my right -- PikeBishop -- open-raised, I three-bet, the blinds folded, and Pike called. Flop came QhJhJs and Pike check-raised my bet. I called. The turn came Ac, and Pike checked.

Thanks for the comments, all. Most suggested checking behind here, although Spunksock surmised I could still be ahead (say, if Pike had 8h7h or the like) and might consider making him pay to see the river.

I have to admit Pike’s preflop raise -- and, perhaps, my sad recent history with kings -- froze me up here. I mentioned I hadn’t played enough hands with Pike to have a good read of his preflop raising range. Assuming an average range, the only hands I could really beat anymore would be KQ, TT, 99, or perhaps some lower pair. Meanwhile there are a ton of hands he could have which have me cooked. I suppose he could have open-raised with suited connectors as well. But I didn’t have a bet in me there. As Machiavelli might say, I didn’t possess the necessary “wherewhithal” to exert true power.

The river was the Th, giving me the straight but completing a possible flush. Pike checked again. My instinct was to consider it needless to bet here, as I thought he’d only call (or raise) with something better. I see now I was dead wrong. If he had hit his flush (or had something even better), he wouldn’t have checked the river after witnessing my timidity at that turn card. In other words, his river check should have told me loud and clear I had the winner. (And that he’s probably calling me down, too, if he has any piece at all of the board.)

The authors of Small Stakes Hold ’em explain this concept in one of their hand quizzes in which a player with top pair -- but a scary board -- gets checked to on the river. They point out how “it is more likely that you are still ahead after your opponents check than it is before they check.”

So what did PikeBishop have? Qs9d. He’d tried a risky blind-steal (with two players to act behind him) and ended up getting just a bit more involved than he probably liked.

Still, he should’ve lost one more big bet, had I read the situation correctly there on the end -- if I had demonstrated the what-do-I-think-he-thinks-I’m-thinking sort of skillful plotting (or “Virtue”) that often serves kings well in their efforts to combat wily Fortune.

At least I didn’t ask for rules at the table.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Kings in Peril, a Limit Hold ’em puzzler (1 of 2)

Pocket kings . . . again . . . Near the conclusion of The Prince, Machiavelli’s early 16th-century manual of statecraft for would-be rulers, he explains how even though “Fortune is the arbiter of one-half of our actions,” we are still left “to direct the other half” according to our own skill (or “Virtue,” as he calls it).

“I compare her [Fortune] to one of those raging rivers,” says Machiavelli, “which when in flood overflows the plains, sweeping away trees and buildings, bearing away the soil from place to place, everything flies before it, all yield to its violence, without being able in any way to withstand it.” Even so, he continues, we aren’t helpless before Fortune, as we can always “make provision, both with defenses and barriers, in such a manner that, rising again, the waters may pass away by canal, and their force be neither so unrestrained nor so dangerous.”

Machiavelli advises those who would be kings to show some courage, some valor . . . and, above all, not to be passive and let Fortune knock ’em around. Because Fortune “shows her power where valor has not prepared to resist her, and thither she turns her forces where she knows that barriers and defenses have not been raised to constrain her.”

David Apostolico's 'Machiavellian Poker Strategy'Not the only moment in The Prince that bears some relationship to poker, of course. Indeed, David Apostolico has written an entire book -- Machiavellian Poker Strategy: How to Play Like a Prince and Rule at the Poker Table -- that examines Machiavelli’s text for various poker-related wisdom.

We’re all well familiar with how both Fortune (or chance) and Virtue (or skill) combine to determine our fates at the tables. And how we simply must -- as Machiavelli advises -- acknowledge that Fortune has its effect and prepare accordingly by putting up the necessary bulwarks to lessen Fortune’s impact. We might not consider Fortune to be the arbiter of “one-half of our actions,” but she has a significant effect, no matter how great our Virtue.

I mentioned a couple of posts ago how I’d run into a mini-bad streak with pocket kings during a particular session of 1/2 LHE. Had ’em cracked three times in less than 100 hands, twice making sets along the way. During my next session, I was dealt KK two more times and again lost both hands. Cowboys goin’ down so fast you’d think we were in the middle of a Sam Peckinpah film or somethin’.

So after losing with pocket kings five straight times (in the space of less than 200 hands), I get ’em one more time. Thought I’d share the hand with you here as a sort of mini-limit Hold ’em puzzler. Tell me what you’d do.

I’m on the button and pick up KdKh. It folds around to the hijack seat (the player left of the cutoff) who raises. Let’s call him PikeBishop. I’d only played around 30 hands with PikeBishop to this point. He’d voluntarily put money in about a third of the hands and had raised preflop three or four times. The best hand I’d seen him showdown during that limited sample was KQ-suited.

The cutoff folds and I three-bet it. Both blinds get out and PikeBishop calls my bet. There is $7.50 in the pot.

The flop comes a tantalizing QhJhJs and PikeBishop checks. What are you thinking here?

What am I thinking? That I’ve lost with kings five times in a row? That Fortune is a raging river and I’m drowning . . . ?

I bet. Sure enough, PikeBishop check-raises me. I call. There’s $11.50 in the pot.

The turn card is the Ac. (Shamus winces.) Pike checks again.

Now what? Any defenses or barriers left for me to put up to stave off Fortune here?

What do you do? Tell me and I’ll come back with the rest in the next post.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Playing Catch-Up

Mentioned last post how I’m enduring a particularly busy stretch over on the non-poker side at the moment. Am managing to play a little now and then, but am only just barely keeping up with the news and other goings-on. Did want to respond in passing to some of the stories from the last couple of weeks, though.

Absolute Nuts

Just because you're paranoid . . . it doesn't mean they aren't out to get youAbout a week ago the “Absolute Rigged” brouhaha flared up for a few days, though now appears to have died down to a few flickers. All began with the posting of a fairly incredible-looking hand history over on 2+2. In the hand, a player called a T$200,000-plus turn bet with nothing more than ten-high and no draw whatsoever. The board read 4hKdKh7s and the player held Tc9c. But his opponent -- the one who made the huge all-in bet on the turn -- was making a huge semibluff with 9h2h. Meaning that the fellow who made the crazy call with ten-high was actually nearly 3-to-1 to win.

How could he make such a call? He must have seen the opponent’s hole cards. So say the detectives, anyhow.

More posts ensued, suggesting a couple of other players were in on the fun as well. Then someone posted a screen grab from Poker Tracker showing some hands he had played with one of the suspects. Here’s that player’s stats:

Jawdropping, eh? And fairly remarkable, if true. I haven’t been able to read through all of the posts on 2+2 (here’s the super-sized thread, and here’s an abridged one), nor the one over on Pocket Fives. My understanding is that at least three different theories have been floated (here ranked in order of decreasing sanity/likelihood): (1) someone hacked into the Absolute site from the outside (possible, though not probable); (2) it is an “inside job,” perhaps perpetrated by an unhappy employee (improbable, though not insane); (3) Absolute Poker created the accounts themselves in a scheme to make extra cabbage off their clients (insane).

Dunno what to make of any of it, really. Wouldn’t mind, though, to get some sort of word from Absolute letting me know everything is hunky dory.

Obrestad Outstanding

World Series of Poker EuropeIt was also about a week ago that we learned 19-year-old Norwegian online phenom Annette “Annette_15” Obrestad had won the £10,000 Main Event at the World Series of Poker Europe, besting 361 opponents and taking home the £1,000,000 first prize.

Obrestad’s win is doubly noteworthy. At just 19, she’s the youngest ever to win a WSOP event -- by almost two years. Also, her win represented the largest prize ever won by a woman in a WSOP-sponsored tourney. Indeed, I think Obrestad’s win might represent the largest poker prize ever won by a woman period, since one million pounds is (at the moment) roughly equivalent to just over $2 million, which was what Annie Duke earned for winning the 2004 Tournament of Champions.

There’s been some speculation about whether Obrestad’s victory will produce a kind of “Moneymaker effect” over in Europe, or perhaps among female players. I can’t really speak to what may or may not happen abroad, but in America, I doubt her victory will have much of an impact without any television coverage of the WSOPE. Her win is certainly significant in terms of the history of women’s poker, but I actually think that in practical terms her status as a high-achiever online is more important here. Those are the guys (and gals) who are going to be winning them high-dollar tourneys more and more, I think.

Jose Can You See? The Sign Says Ladies Only

Men Should Act Like MenAlso read the story about former baseball star and steroid abuser Jose Canseco -- and five other men -- managing to gain entry into the California Ladies State Championship last week. I liked Tina Bergstrom’s line in her PokerNews article reporting this one. She said she was waiting for one of those huge cans of Milwaukee’s Best Light to come crashing through the roof and squash those dudes while someone intoned “men should act like men.”

Read the rest of Bergstrom’s article for some smart commentary on the affair. My instinctive response is to look upon this particular act of civil disobedience as hopelessly misplaced. Sometimes there are good reasons for transgressing unfair or discriminatory laws, reasons that transcend those very laws and effect genuine change for the better. I’m not seeing anything close to that happening here.


Friday, September 21, 2007

Get Out Your iPods and iPod-like Devices

Some good pokery for the iPod this weekUp to my eyeballs in “real life” applesauce these days. Imagine slapped across the front of my fedora one of them “I'd Rather Be . . . ” bumper stickers. Go ahead and fill in the rest with just about anything. And, yes, that would include a stick in the eye.

I have been able to squeeze in few quick pokery sessions here and there, but not as much as I would like. Had a fairly absurd little stretch of 100 hands of 1/2 full-ring LHE yesterday on Full Tilt where I was dealt KK three times and lost all three -- twice making sets along the way. Also lost twice with QQ. Ended up down about $40 overall -- just about the cost of those five hands, in fact.

Something to cheer me up today, though. Some of my favorite poker people are getting together. Check it out.

Tom Schneider -- the 2007 WSOP Player of the Year, author of Oops! I Won Too Much Money: Winning Wisdom from the Boardroom to the Poker Table, co-host of Beyond the Table (new episode up today), and contributor to Pokerati -- appears as a guest on today’s episode of Ante Up! hosted by Chris Cosenza and Scott Long.

Tom (a.k.a., the Donkey Bomber, or, more recently, Thomas the Tank Engine) has appeared on a couple of other podcasts since picking up two WSOP bracelets and POY honors this year -- namely the July 8th episode of Rounders, the Poker Show and the July 11th episode of PokerWire (R.I.P.). Tom has also gotten some air time lately during ESPN’s telecasts of the WSOP, as well as coverage in CardPlayer and other poker pubs.

Speaking of CardPlayer, Tom’s final table at the WPT Legends of Poker Main Event currently has him in fourth place in the CardPlayer Player of the Year standings (behind David Pham, Bill Edler, and J.C. Tran). That final table also bumped him up over the $1 million mark for lifetime tourney winnings.

Meanwhile, this week marks the 119th episode of Ante Up! And I believe that’s 119 weeks without a single week off, which should qualify Chris and Scott to be the Cal Ripkens of poker podcasting or something. The show is always fun and informative, and the pair do a great job with interviews, too.

Three cool cats. And unlike them lousy kings and queens yesterday, sure to be a winner.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Three’s a Crowd

STFUBeen rereading Doyle Brunson’s NLHE section from the original Super/System. From a style standpoint, his hundred-page entry has to be one of the oddest bits of prose ever to be considered “classic.” Had to have been dictated to someone who then transcribed Doyle’s words sans any editing whatsoever -- aside, of course, from the wild array of boldface, italics, ellipses points, dashes, and block quotations, all of which (I presume) are meant to convey Doyle’s various inflections when he originally uttered all of his wisdom into that there reel-to-reel. (Now that would be a hell of a podcast to hear!)

The style ain’t the reason why Super/System is a classic, of course. Dozens and dozens of terrific insights here -- the kind of stuff that has been repeated so many times it qualifies as a significant part of the atmosphere poker players today breathe.

During the discussion of how to play A-A and K-K, Brunson gets into the situation where you’ve flopped a set and he gives advice about how to proceed. Can be a delicate matter, holding three of a kind (even aces or kings) with two cards still to come.

When you flop a set of aces, Brunson reminds us, there is always also going to be some kind of straight draw out there (unless, of course, you flop a boat or quads). He sorts through the particulars a bit, explaining how if there is any 2, 3, 4, 5, T, J, Q, or K on the board along with the ace, that makes a draw possible, and if there isn’t, that means the other two cards -- no matter what they are -- could potentially form a straight draw.

Obvious stuff, but perhaps not something we’ve all remained attuned to at all times. I know I’ve had A-A hands where I’ve flopped the set and relaxed, not really thinking about the straight draw being out there (say, on a ragged board like A-8-2 or something).

He also points out that with K-K the situation is much different. When you flop a set of kings, there are numerous situations where the straight draw is not going to be out there. Meaning, of course, that you might have the option here to slowplay whereas with the set of aces that might not be such a good idea.

Even though he’s discussing NLHE (a game I’m not really playing these days), what he’s saying applies equally to pot limit Omaha (a game I’m playing quite often these days). In fact, one flops sets of aces and kings much more frequently in PLO, so it is a good point to keep in mind that while your flopped set of kings may be safe (for the moment), your flopped set of aces is never going to be.

Had an interesting hand of PLO25 come up a few weeks ago where I flopped the set of kings. I’ve lost the hand history (though I did save the chat, as I’ll get to in a moment). As I recall the flop had no straight draw out there, something like K-9-4 rainbow. It checked to me and I bet half or two-thirds the pot, and a player in early position -- let’s call him TambourineMan -- called me. Everyone else folded. I immediately put him on a lower set, primarily because there were no obvious draws out there.

The turn was a 5 or something -- I still held the nuts. This time I bet something like 85-90% of the pot and again TambourineMan called. (I like to make that almost-pot-sized bet sometimes as it seems to encourage folks to stick around, even though the pot odds are no good for ’em to do so.)

The river is a ten, making the board K-9-4-5-T (with no flush possible). TambourineMan checks quickly. The pot was around $15 by now. I think a moment, then decide he must have a couple of nines or fours, meaning his other two cards have to be precisely J-Q for me to be beat. I make a half-pot bet of $7.50 -- probably a reckless move on my part, but I was close to 100% certain he had just the lower set unless he’d gotten very lucky here on the end.

My opponent did not call or check-raise me right away, which further convinced me I was okay here. A few seconds passed, and while TambourineMan was thinking, another player -- GroteNeus -- began to chat.

GroteNeus: heren [trans. from Dutch: Lord (?)]
Dealer: TambourineMan, it’s your turn. You have 15 seconds to act
Dealer: Player TambourineMan has requested TIME
TambourineMan: trip kings?
Dealer: TambourineMan, it’s your turn. You have 15 seconds to act
GroteNeus: ja [yes]
GroteNeus: of die andere [or those other]
Dealer: Player TambourineMan has requested TIME
GroteNeus: hes tight
GroteNeus: or 99
TambourineMan: sick
GroteNeus: watch it
Dealer: TambourineMan, it’s your turn. You have 15 seconds to act

He finally folds, and I pick up the $15 pot. I was miffed at GroteNeus offering advice like that to TambourineMan. How would you handle such a situation?

Here’s what I did:

Short-Stacked Shamus: dude
TambourineMan: u had trips?
TambourineMan: i folded trips
Short-Stacked Shamus: GroteNeus, I don't mind that much
Short-Stacked Shamus: but you shouldn’t comment
TambourineMan: true
GroteNeus: sorry
Short-Stacked Shamus: it’s cool
Short-Stacked Shamus: ya had KK
GroteNeus: ur righyt
TambourineMan: felt like kings..
Short-Stacked Shamus: worried u backed into str8 there
TambourineMan: figured that river would earn me a look at ur cards
TambourineMan: risky bet

He’s right -- it was a risky bet. But I’d put him on the lower set thanks to that non-threatening board. And I thought that half-pot bet was just small enough for him to call with such a hand. (Maybe I had some o’ that ESP Doyle talks about in Super/System. You know . . . ESP -- it’s a jellyroll.) I suppose I could’ve gotten more upset at GroteNeus, but I suppose my relief at having guessed right there about TambourineMan’s hand & winning the pot probably made me a little more mellow there.

Anyhow, been wanting to share that one for a while, and Doyle’s discussion of flopping big sets reminded me of it. So remember . . . next time you flop a set with yr pocket rockets, the straight is lurking!

And also . . . keep a lid on it when not in the hand.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Poker on the Radio

'This American Life' on NPROver the weekend I happened across this week’s episode of This American Life on National Public Radio. Each week Ira Glass hosts the hour-long radio show which presents multiple segments (or “acts”) each of which approach that week’s theme from a different angle. This week’s show is titled “Meet the Pros” and features several examples of amateurs getting to interact with high-level achievers in various fields (e.g., science fiction writers, basketball players, etc.).

The second segment -- “Act 2: Know When to Walk Away, Know When to Run” -- concerns poker. Some of the 26-minute long segment is taken up with interviews Glass conducted back at the 2001 WSOP (for an earlier show). He talks with Jennifer Harman, Paul Phillips, Phil Gordon, and Mike Laing. Linda Johnson and Rafe Furst turn up as well.

The program covers what I imagine is familiar territory for most of us. The pro player’s lifestyle, psychology and math, luck and skill, women and men, compulsive gambling, handling losses, and Gordon’s Rochambeau silliness all come up along the way. Still, the presentation is smartly-handled and one does get a carefully-constructed, thoughtful glimpse of the life of a professional player.

As interesting as the pros are, it is Glass himself who makes the show worth a listen. Doesn’t sound as though he was much of a poker player back in 2001 when he visited with these players, but since then he’s become increasingly interested in poker, especially online. Glass says he plays nearly every night, most often on the intertubes (for real money). So in fact in this particular part of this week’s show Glass himself is the amateur who getting to rub elbows with the pros -- and to imagine what it might be like to become one.

Toward the end of the segment Glass reflects a bit on his own play. He admits he’s not the best player (“I don’t have the patience,” he says). He also speaks of how sometimes while playing his journalistic instincts will overwhelm his ability to play correctly. In other words, he is more interested in finding out “what happened” (e.g., was his opponent bluffing?) than making the right move. He makes a couple of other interesting observations that I imagine should resonate with a lot of online amateurs.

Like I say, the show is worth a listen. Here is a link to the page describing the show. You can download it here. The poker segment begins about 20 minutes in.

Refreshing, really, to hear a competent report on poker from a “mainstream” media source (if one considers NPR as such). More often than not, they get it so, so wrong.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Literature of Poker

Poker booksNow and then I’ll post reviews here of various poker (and some hard-boiled) books I happen to have picked up. Those posts get tagged “By the Book” and if you click on that picture on the lower right -- or just click here -- you’ll get to a page collecting ’em all. Would like to write more of those, but that sort of thing takes a little more time than does the average post.

I’m more apt to review a poker narrative -- or perhaps talk about a hard-boiled novel that bears some relation to poker -- than to discuss a strategy book. There have been several strategy books I have read straight through, but more often than not I’ll read and reread certain sections, then try to apply what I’ve picked up at the tables, then go back and read some more, and so forth. Not enough (usually) to commit to a fully-informed review. Indeed, I’ve never really posted reviews any of the strategy books I most admire and from which I’ve derived the most benefit (e.g., Small-Stakes Hold ’em, The Theory of Poker, Omaha Poker), though you might see me referring to ’em now and again in the context of discussing a hand.

Anyhow, for those of you interested in reading solid reviews of numerous poker books (strategy and/or narrative), I wanted to point you to a website called “The Literature of Poker” that Tim Peters is maintaining. Peters reviews books for CardPlayer and has written for other poker publications as well. He also appeared as a guest on Rounders last Sunday, where he discussed and recommended several of the books he has reviewed.

Peters’ website contains dozens of reviews of poker books as well as links to other articles he has written. Although Peters tends to review books he likes, not all of his reviews are laudatory. He’ll tell you if a book has flaws or isn’t really contributing anything new. Along the way Peters also throws in some good reflections about the usefulness of strategy books, generally speaking.

The non-review pieces are also worthwhile. I particularly like his article about the Gambler’s Bookshop (especially since I got the chance to go there back in April). There are some other goodies on the site, too, such as a blog he’s updating regularly and a page of neat poker postcards. Good stuff all around.

If you’ve liked any of my occasional “By the Book” efforts, you should enjoy Peters’ site.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

2007 WSOP Final Table Hand No. 24: “The Action Man”

Jerry, the Action ManThe first 15 hands of the 2007 WSOP Main Event final table -- as shown on the ESPN pay-per-view live broadcast -- made for some undeniably thrilling poker television. We’ll all see the repackaged, edited, hole-card-cam version in a couple of weeks, but I’m convinced lacking knowledge of players’ holdings made watching these opening hands much, much more exciting.

Yang won seven of those first 15 hands. He assumed the chip lead from Philip Hilm on Hand No. 14, claiming a huge 11-plus million chip pot by forcing Hilm to fold to his all-in bet on the turn. Yang then busted Hilm on the very next hand after Hilm decided to put the amateur to the test with an all-in semi-bluff. Yang called, Hilm didn’t get there, and the former chip leader was suddenly out in ninth.

We’ll certainly see that electric Hand No. 15 on the ESPN edited version soon enough. And again and again after that. We’ll also see Hand No. 21 when Yang busts Lee Watkinson in 8th. That hand versus Watkinson was the one where we hear Yang speaking of how God has a purpose for him, how “with the money I will glorify your name, Lord.” (Curious to see how much of that will make it to the edited version.)

An overhead shot showing Yang's massive chip lead at the 2007 WSOP Final TableFollowing that hand, Yang is up to 55 million -- getting close to half of the chips in play with seven players left. We get a neat overhead shot of his overwhelming chip lead. Meanwhile, Gordon and Nejad are discussing how Yang thinks he’s “ordained by God” to win (Gordon) and has an “invicibility complex” (Nejad).

But they’re entirely missing the point here. Yang hardly believes he’s invincible. Just the opposite. He’s entirely submitted his fate to a higher power.

As Hand No. 24 begins, Hevad “Rain” Kahn, winner of the previous hand, is saying something about buying some Big League Chew with the prize money. (Anyone catch Kahn’s performance from the Day 3 show this week? Sheesh.) The blinds are 120,000/240,000 with a 30,000 ante. Alex Kravchenko, the table’s short stack with a little under 4.9 million, raises to 750,000 from middle position. Lee Childs, sitting to Kravchenko’s left, quickly folds. Jerry Yang, sitting in the cutoff seat, checks his cards, then -- as he has done some dozen times before -- methodically pushes them in front of his stack and places a chip atop them. He’s considering a bet.

“Uh oh,” says the Englishman Jon Kalmar from across the table in a sing-song voice. We see Childs, in the shot beside Yang, laughing in response to Kalmar’s words. After the trauma of Hand No. 9, Childs appears to have settled down. Indeed, the rapid elimination of two players appears to have loosened up everyone.

“Jerry, the action man,” intones Raymond Rahme. A curious dynamic has developed here. Yang’s chip stack certainly distinguishes him from everyone else. But so do a lot of other things. The announcers have already branded him the least-experienced, “weakest” player. His soft voice and reserved demeanor contrast sharply with the others’ frivolity. And, of course, his professions of faith also tend to set him apart a bit here in this particularly secular atmosphere. It is as though Yang has become the table’s straight man.

“Raise,” he says, and we can see Tuan Lam in profile exhale and lift his sunglasses to steal a glance over at Yang. Yang stands up and carefully places two-and-a-half stacks’ worth of the 100,000 magenta-and-green chips out for a 2.5 million bet.

The table folds to Kalmer who with a chuckle asks “How much ya got left there, Jerry? You got me covered?” He tosses his cards to the center.

The others fold back around to Kravchenko, who like everyone has a smile on his face. The Russian takes his time, riffling his chips and opening his mouth more than once as if to say something. After a minute or so later, he checks his cards one last time, then tosses them. We catch a very quick glimpse what appears a non-face card as they go into the muck.

“Nice hand, Jerry,” he smiles, head cocked to the side. We look back at Kravchenko and it sounds like he says -- still smiling -- “I choked again.”

Yang assures him if he’d have gone all in he would have called. “Sure,” says Kravchenko. “I was ready for that,” he adds.

Given how Kravchenko subsequently nurtured his short stack, I’d guess he didn’t have too much there, hoping merely to steal the 570,000 chips’ worth of blinds and antes. Yang’s range is much wider, obviously.

Not a hand we’ll likely see played (and replayed) on ESPN, but one that certainly illustrates how the first couple of hours of play had profoundly affected the table’s vibe.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Easy Reader

Captain Obvious, from BlueLine Comics (click to visit)Little post here about a recent hand of PLO. Won’t take long, I promise.

I’ve been splitting my time between PLO25 (either six-handed or full ring) and 1/2 LHE (full ring only), sometimes actually sitting at one table of each. Might seem odd to be playing both at once, but I’m finding the PLO (where I’m playing most of the hands) is enabling me to be more patient at the LHE table (where I’m playing very few).

Have been running well in both games here of late. Probably a bit better in Omaha. Have been experimenting a bit with preflop raises, intermittently putting in small raises with marginal hands from late position. Try to avoid such applesauce with badly-coordinated hands with little potential, but will put in the small (e.g., 3xBB) raise with something like Js9c7d6s. A good number of players automatically put you on aces with any sort of preflop raise, so for some these raises create a bit of misdirection before the flop which can pay off nicely if the flop hits my hand. These raises can also help disguise it when I do have aces or something else worth raising. Strategy seems to work best in short-handed games, or sometimes in a very tight full ring game.

Anyhow, the hand I want to share with you requires just a bit of background. Don’t fret. I’ll be quick.

Was at a six-handed PLO25 table on Full Tilt and after sitting there a good while (100 hands or so) had built my initial $20 up over $40, perhaps loosening me up just a bit. Players had come and gone, but I’d had one player -- MrSkeptic -- two seats to my right for the entire session. He’d been up and down a bit and was sitting at about even, I believe, for the hands we’d played. Appeared to be a fairly straightforward type who occasionally took chances but mostly just waited for big hands. We had vied for a few pots, but nothing too dramatic.

Then came a hand where after a bunch of checking I found myself heads-up on the river with MrSkeptic. The pot was around four bucks. The board read 4d2h7s4c7d. What did I have? Qd3c9h Tc. That’s right. As Norman Chad would say, I had squadoosh. (No, I didn’t preraise this one.) MrSkeptic checked to me and I quickly bet $3.50. After a long wait, he called and took the pot with a pair of kings.

A silly play, sure. But stay with me here.

About fifteen or so hands later I get dealt 3sAcAh4d on the button. Now I had been putting in the smallish raises from the button and cutoff over and over, but this time I just called, joining the two limpers (including MrSkeptic). I could’ve certainly put in the raise, as it wouldn’t necessarily have signalled aces, but I didn’t. However, not raising also makes aces seem unlikely -- especially from a dude who does sometimes raise preflop.

Frankly I don’t like aces that aren’t suited or have strong straight possibilities to go along with ’em. I am also fully capable of letting them go if the flop doesn’t work out for me -- which it almost always doesn’t for a bare pair of aces. So if I miss this flop I’ll gladly toss ’em.

But I don’t. Flop comes QdAd2s. I’ve hit my set. Checks to me, I bet pot (75 measly cents), and both my opponents call. Coupla draws, no doubt. The turn is the Kc. The blind checks and MrSkeptic quickly bets pot -- $3.25. I call, knowing full well my man has the straight. I’m also thinking the blind might stay in with the flush draw, thus giving me not-quite-but-decent-enough odds (I suppose) to chase my boat. He folds, though. Oh, well. The pot is $9.50 and the river is good to me, bringing the Qh. MrSkeptic checks.

What would you bet here? Two dollars? Four dollars?

I bet pot -- which on Full Tilt actually means a little more than pot (in this case $9.75). Why would I make such a ridiculous overbet?

A couple of reasons. He can’t have me on aces. He might well have me on a lesser boat, but why would I overbet so much? He obviously has a straight, and has played the hand in such a way that he clearly knows that I know he has a straight. Thus a pot-sized bet seems even more likely not to want a call -- as if I have just a set or two pair or something. Or nothing, as I had in that hand just a little while ago . . . .

MrSkeptic is thinking. A good sign. Thirty seconds pass. He starts typing. An even better sign.

MrSkeptic: watch this a boat on the river for you i bet

He calls. He’s got the straight, all right. And I’ve got the nearly $30 pot.

MrSkeptic: exactly
MrSkeptic: easy read

I allow myself to type “haha” but resist asking why the hell he called if it were so easy a read. He nonetheless gives me an answer (of sorts):

MrSkeptic: if this really matters i would of folded there

Jack Nicholson as George Hanson in 'Easy Rider' (1969)I hear ya, man. Can’t be a slave to the dollar. Just like George says, it’s real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. Nik-nik-nik-nik . . . SWAMP!

Actually I don’t believe it was MrSkeptic’s cavalier attitude toward small stakes that encouraged the call there. It was picking off that earlier bluff. No way he pays me off without that earlier hand having happened.

Not saying I’m doing everything right in this hand (or in general). But I don’t think I’m being as easy a read as MrSkeptic here. Whaddya think?


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