Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hard-Boiled Poker Year in Review (1 of 3)

The End of 2008At the start of 2008, I thought I’d try something different and post each weekday, rather than every other day as I had been doing before. Took me a while, but I’d finally figured out most folks tend to check in on the blogs during the week (while at work, natch), and so I took it as a challenge to give ’em something new when they did.

We’ve reached the end of the calendar, and somehow I did it -- at least one new post each weekday, plus a good number of weekend extras along the way, too. Added up to a total of 333 posts for the year (prior to this one). I’m not sure at the moment if I want to try the same tactic in 2009 -- lemme know what youse think.

On the one hand, I certainly don’t want to sacrifice quality for quantity. Then again, I’ve found it to be a pretty rare occurrence to wake up without having at least something to say about the game we love, be it “the rumble” (how others are talking about poker), “on the street” (my own games), “shots in the dark” (strategy/theory), “high society” (what the pros are doin’), or “by the book” (my latest read).

I’m gonna split the “year in review” stuff up into three posts, so this one covers January-April. More to come.


Do We Want Online Poker Regulated?As the year began, the Absolute Poker insider cheating scandal was still fresh in our minds. I wrote one post early on, Absolute Apathy (1/4), which commented on the lack of attention the scandal seemed to be drawing. Then a week later I wrote a response to that less-than-comprehensive report from the Kahnawake Gaming Commission on the Gaming Associates’ audit of Absolute, Something is Missing Here (1/12).

Had a “shot in the dark” in there -- Poker Is Where It’s At (1/5) -- which offered a brief reflection on the metaphorical richness of poker. That idea that poker is somehow “like” everything.

A few days later I was posting about Josh “J.J. Prodigy” Field, the rampant (and unrepentent) online cheater who was using his 18th birthday as an occasion to seek forgiveness. The post was titled Uncorrected Personality Traits That Seem Whimsical In a Child May Prove to Be Ugly In a Fully Grown Adult (1/15). One commentor nominated that one for the “poker blog post title of the year award.” Indeed, looking through the rest of the year, I might well have peaked early there.

Toward the end of the month I did a bit of speculating about the legal situation for online poker, asking Do We Want Online Poker Regulated? (Part One [1/24] & Part Two [1/25]). The conclusion there ended up being “We’re between a rock and a hard place. We don’t want the feds to regulate online poker, but the present system of voluntarily-accepted regulation isn’t working very well, either.”

Finally, I reported on some weird shenanigans over at UltimateBet, including the ability of two players to log into the same account from different locations. That post -- UnBelievable (1/29) -- also mentions even bigger trouble for UB brewing over in the forums, which is why I list it here.


Reporting on Absolute Poker; or, If a Tree FallsHad another “shot in the dark” early on called Poker “Reality” (2/5) in which I brought in one of my favorite fictionalists, Vladimir Nabokov, to help me discuss how the notions of “reality” become mighty slippery in the context of poker. Had a couple of other literary-type posts in February, including one on Raymond Chandler (2/14) and another on Alain Robbe-Grillet (2/19) who died on the 18th.

Had a post in there called Absolute Poker “Security Summits” (In Search Of) (2/13), the title of which is self-explanatory. (Anybody else remember that bogus announcement about the summits?) Also, I had a fairly popular post in February called Reporting on Absolute Poker; or, If a Tree Falls (2/22) in which I compiled a ton of links to various writings on the interweb about the AP scandal. Have had a few people ask me to point them to that particular post as they searched for info.

Another frequently-hit post from February was The Wrong Focus (Another Cheating Pro) (2/15). That one referred to yet another example of an established pro casually letting slip how he’d taken over for someone during the latter stages of an online tourney. That issue would continue to linger throughout the year, and I think by now what is “generally accepted” has changed a bit from a year ago.

A post titled On Poker Mags (2/20) reflected a bit on poker media and its apparent role, a subject revisited a week or so later in Playing Favorites (2/29). The latter one focuses on how the “name” pros get more attention than others from tourney reporters -- kind of an interesting post for me to go back and read, since a week or two after that I would be asked to go report on the 2008 World Series of Poker (and thus face those very decisions about how best to report).


A New Sheriff in TownOn the Poker Haters (3/4) tries to examine the various reasons (psychological, moral, ethical) why some people object so strenuously to others playing poker.

March was the month the UltimateBet scandal was first officially acknowledged by UB. My quickie post Cheating “Scheme” Confirmed at UltimateBet (3/8) basically just shared the news.

A few days later I was noting in Tick, Tick, Tick: 60 Minutes Now Looking at Absolute Poker (3/11) that it had begun to appear that the scandals were going to get wider attention than AP or UB had probably anticipated.

There was a legal update in there called The Good, the Bad, and the UIGEA (3/14). Shortly after that I ended up commenting a bit on the Poker Players Alliance’s not-so-smooth handling of pressure to comment on the ongoing online poker scandals in One (Ex-)Member Inspires PPA to Alter Its Mission Statement (3/20) & PPA Can Do Better (3/21).

Took a quick trip to California in March where I managed to play a brief, not-too-eventful session of live poker, documented in Live Poker: Oaks Card Club, Emeryville, CA (3/19). Finally, the month ended with me achieving Silver Star on PokerStars, an event I chose to mark with that embarrassing photo of myself as a kiddie dressed as a cowboy in A New Sheriff in Town (3/31).


The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio ShowI launched my podcast, The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show, on April Fool’s Day. Chose that day just in case it flopped, that way I could always say it was a joke (or a jopke). The HBPRS didn’t change the world, but it didn’t flop, either, and with a little help from my friends I managed to produce ten episodes over the course of the next nine months. (Have Episode No. 11 in the works, by the way.)

Early in April there was a pretty big House hearing to discuss the proposed regulations for the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. I documented that hearing fairly comprehensively in UIGEA Regs: Burden Without Benefit? Without a Doubt (4/2). Soon after that we saw a Bill to Block Finalization of UIGEA Regs Proposed (4/12), then It’s Time to Fold: Frank & Co. Tell Feds to Cease “Sisyphean Task” of Finalizing UIGEA Regulations (4/23). Turned out “Frank & Co.” and other legislators who proposed such bills this year were actually the ones who most resembled Sisyphus, I think.

April was when we first started hearing rumors that the WSOP ME final table might be delayed. Sounded crazy at the time, but the rumors would turn out to be true. I first opined on the subject in WSOP To Create “Sequel” for Main Event Final Table? (4/7). Didn’t like the idea then. Still don’t.

I see a few other posts of note in April. Here’s to the Great Beyond (4/11) was an elegy of sorts to one of my favorite podcasts, Beyond the Table, the hosts of which decided then to call it quits. Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyich and the Meaning of Card Playing (4/16) zones in on a few passages in the Russian writer’s short novel. And Worlds Within Worlds (4/24) talks about a visit I had to the barber shop in which I was reminded of poker’s relatively modest place in our culture.

The month ended with the blog reaching its second birthday, and me finishing second in Saturdays with Pauly (my best finish in 2008 in Dr. P’s weekly PLO event). Both events are documented in Celebrating Seconds (4/28).

Finally, I wouldn’t have thought to include Flopping Quad Aces is Usually Fun (4/18) in this here wrap-up, but I’m noticing there I am telling about a hand I played on Bodog in which I disconnected halfway through. I had flopped quad aces on the hand, and so was not too happy when I got knocked off. However, I did win the pot. I only mention it here because it sounds like a somewhat similar situation to the one involving Phil Hellmuth & DOUBLEBALLER two weeks ago. (Except there, of course, the pot was erroneously awarded to a losing player.)

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Down from the Shelf: Poker Books from 2008

Shamus readingFor a while now I have been intending to organize the “Hard-Boiled Poker Bookstore” into something a bit more user-friendly (and maybe even mildly profitable). I have an Amazon Associates account and occasionally when I mention a book or some other item I will set up a link which, if one were to click through and purchase the item (or any item, actually), a few pennies land in my account over there.

Anyhow, our arrival here at year’s end has motivated me (somewhat) to get it in gear and start building the HBP Bookstore in earnest. Actually, this is all part of a grander plan I have in mind to move the entire operation -- the blog, the podcast, and other associated endeavors -- over to in the near future.

For now, though, while the store is being constructed, I’m going to use this post as a place-holder. What follows is a list of all of the poker-related books on my shelf that were published in 2008, each accompanied by a short bit of commentary.

Like I say, this post will be the temporary “bookstore” for a while until I get the real store completed. The full store will of course include books published prior to 2008. As I suggested yesterday, I had originally intended here to list all of the poker books on my shelf, but that would have meant writing up 50 or so more titles here (no shinola!). Sort of thing happens a lot around this time of the year -- unrealistic plans, that is.

So consider this post just the front part of the store, while work continues on the back half. Sorry about the noise. Please stay as long as you like. And do enjoy the complimentary coffee at the bottom of the post!
  • Cogert, Mitchell. Tournament Poker: 101 Winning Moves.

    'Tournament Poker: 101 Winning Moves' by Mitchell CogertHave only just skimmed this one, actually. Am more interested in Cogert’s razz book, which I have heard is a decent primer. (The Poker Grump wrote a two-part review of the razz book a while back, if yr curious: Part 1, Part 2)

  • Dunnett, Warwick. Poker Wizards: Wisdom from the World’s Top No-Limit Hold'em Players.

    Warwick Dunnett's 'Poker Wizards'A collection of short pieces by an impressive group of poker pros (Ferguson, Negreanu, Harrington, Luske, Liebert, Cloutier, Sexton, Judah), a “mentalist” (Marc Salem) who deals with tells, and Dunnett himself. Kind of interesting to read how these pros differently address similar questions/issues.

  • Hansen, Gus. Every Hand Revealed.

    Gus Hansen, 'Every Hand Revealed'I sincerely enjoyed this hand-by-hand account of Hansen’s 2007 Aussie Millions victory. Offers genuine insight into the Great Dane’s unorthodox style. Witty, too. I’m not the only one who likes Hansen's book, apparently, as it has been the best-selling poker book for most of the latter part of 2008 (per Pop Fifty).

  • Harrington, Dan and Bill Robertie. Harrington on Cash Games: How to Win at No-Limit Hold’em Money Games, Volume I.

    'Harrington on Cash Games, Vol. I' by Dan Harrington and Bill RobertieThis one currently sits right behind Hansen’s book at the top of the bestselling poker books list. As we all learned with the Harrington on Hold’em books, Harrington and Robertie do an especially good job of explaining difficult concepts in clear, understandable prose. Here the pair (perhaps predictably) advocate a tight-aggressive style in cash games, although they do touch on LAG play a bit, too, in the second volume. Volume 1 only takes us through flop play, making it hard to imagine someone picking up the first book only.

  • Harrington, Dan and Bill Robertie. Harrington on Cash Games: How to Win at No-Limit Hold’em Money Games, Volume II.

    'Harrington on Cash Games, Vol. II' by Dan Harrington and Bill RobertieTurn and river play, plus sections on tells, loose-aggressive play, dealing with weak games, bankroll issues, and an interesting interview with longtime cash-game pro and 1979 WSOP Main Event runner-up Bobby Hoff.

  • Holden, Anthony. Holden on Hold’em

    Anthony Holden's 'Holden on Hold'em'This one just came out. Haven’t seen it in bookstores here in the U.S., although I think it is readily available in Holden’s native U.K. Here the author of the justly-acclaimed Big Deal gets tapped to write a hold’em strategy guide. The strategy talk takes up about half of the book, then he tells some stories from the EPT and 2007 WSOP (which also incorporate some strategy advice). There’s also a neat analysis of the poker in the 2006 Bond film Casino Royale as well as some fun anecdotes about the history of hold’em.

  • Hwang, Jeff. Pot-Limit Omaha Poker: The Big Play Strategy.

    Jeff Hwang's 'Pot-Limit Omaha: The Big Play Strategy'I really like Hwang’s PLO book, although I have to admit I have only read the first half of it. (The second half deals with Omaha/8.) Hwang smartly explains how PLO is, in fact, primarily a post-flop game. I’ve been recommending this one more and more when folks ask me about PLO books.

  • Lynch, Eric, Jon Turner, and Jon Van Fleet. Winning Poker Tournaments One Hand at a Time, Volume 1.

    Lynch, Fleet, and Van Styles' 'Winning Poker Tournaments, Vol. 1'Kind of follows the format of Hansen’s book, although (for the most part) the hands aren’t all from the same tourney. Turner and Lynch each take us through 50 hands, then Van Fleet covers 30 more, plus a 44-hand sequence from the bubble of a tournament. The trio then individually assess 20 hands given to them by Matthew Hilger, each offering his own view. Book is especially well written and organized -- like Hansen’s, the book is much more readable than one might guess from the format.

  • Moshman, Collin. Heads-Up No-Limit Hold’em.

    Collin Moshman's 'Heads-Up No-Limit Hold'emI thought Moshman’s book had a lot to offer even to those of us who don’t specialize in HU games. No matter what game one plays, one ends up in heads-up situations quite frequently (indeed, almost every time one plays a hand, really). Thus, Moshman’s advice is worthwhile even to us, I think. Smart and well-written, too.

  • Negreanu, Daniel. Power Hold’em Strategy.

    Daniel Negreanu's 'Power Hold'em Strategy'This was the big one everyone was waiting for (following last year’s modest-and-therefore-disappointing Hold’em Wisdom for All Players). The book is apparently intended to be a Super/System for the new generation, bringing together a number of different authors -- Evelyn Ng, Todd Brunson, Erick Lindgren, Paul Wasicka, and David Williams -- along with Negreanu. Of course, all six focus on hold’em (a big difference from Super/System). Negreanu’s section on his “small ball” strategy is by far the best, although I also liked the others’ contributions, too. Only Todd Brunson’s disappointed, really, particularly since I liked his Stud/8 section in SS2.

  • Negreanu, Daniel. More Hold’em Wisdom for All Players.

    Daniel Negreanu's 'More Hold'em Wisdom for All Players'A sequel to last year’s teaser, offering 50 more tips regarding both cash and tourney play. This book is actually just a compilation of the poker columns Negreanu has been writing for the last few years, so all of the chapters are brief and -- despite the title -- aimed primarily at beginners (not “all players”).

  • Snyder, Arnold. The Poker Tournament Formula 2.

    Arnold Snyder's 'The Poker Tournament Formula 2'I am a big fan of Snyder’s follow-up to his earlier The Poker Tournament Formula (which I had also liked a lot). The first book had focused primarily on fast-structured tournaments, while this one dealt mostly with slower tourney strategy. I appreciate Snyder’s ideas about playing position and chips (as opposed to cards), and I also really admire his unwillingness to accept uncritically the “received wisdom” of previous authors. I have to admit my successes in those Run Good Challenge tourneys back in September were probably mostly due to my having read Snyder.

  • Walsh, Joseph. Gambler on the Loose.

    Joseph Walsh's 'Gambler on the Loose'Walsh wrote the script for the terrific 1974 Robert Altman film, California Split (which I reviewed here a while back). This is an autobiographical work that collects a lot of anecdotes and other “life lessons” dating from Walsh’s introduction to gambling as a teenager and carrying up through the 70s and his work on Split. Kind of haphazard and out there, and maybe not for all tastes. But very, very funny in places. Insightful, too (in my opinion.) See a full post on this one here.

  • Warren, Ken. Ken Warren Teaches Texas Hold’em 2.

    Ken Warren, 'Ken Warren Teaches Texas Hold'em 2'I’ve only skimmed this one, I’m afraid. (Didn’t read Warren’s first book, either.) Looks like most of the advice comes in the form of identifying various mistakes players frequently make. Seems like a run-of-the-mill strategy text, although near the end comes a lengthy Q&A (“Ken Warren Answers Your Questions”) that includes a few entertaining stories.

  • Wilson, Des. Ghosts at the Table: Riverboat Gamblers, Texas Rounders, Roadside Hucksters, and the Living Legends Who Made Poker What It Is Today.

    Des Wilson's 'Ghosts at the Table'A nifty collection of stories from the history of poker, divided into four “ages” or sections: the 19th century poker of the Old West and Mississippi riverboats; the mid-20th century version played by the Texas road gamblers “fadin’ the white line”; the growth of Vegas and the WSOP; and the post-“poker boom” era marked by the online game and televised poker. Definitely deserves a spot alongside Spanier, Alvarez, Holden, and McManus on the shelf.
  • Thanks for stopping by. Come again.

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    Monday, December 29, 2008

    My Electric Guitar

    Diagram for hard rockingLike you, I’ve noticed how December has almost entirely escaped us, sneaking away quietly while distracting with snow storms, holidays, and football. And like most of you, I, too, during idle moments have found myself mentally gesturing back and forth, vaguely reflecting on the past and planning for the future.

    Have a couple of posts in mind with which to wind up the year. One will collect a list of poker books I have read -- not just this year, but since I started reading ’em shortly after the day I began playing poker. I’ll try to post that one tomorrow. Then on Wednesday I’ll see if I can come up with a selection of posts from 2008 that have either gotten above-average attention or might otherwise be worth another look before we pull that dog-eared calendar off the fridge and chuck it.

    Today, though, I just wanna play my electric guitar. Let’s jam!

    My brother gave me this nifty little all-in-one electric guitar and amplifier set for Xmas. You might recall I mentioned last week that I’d gotten him a copy of The Truth About Chuck Norris. Goes without saying I came out slightly ahead on that exchange.

    Our dad is a guitar player. Quite good, actually. So me and my bro grew up with lots of acoustics laying around the house. I picked one up at some point during my early teens -- either a Martin copy or an Ovation, I think. Found my pop’s Beatles songbook that had diagrams showing how to make chords, and before too long I’d learned myself how to play the sucker. Ever since, I have always had an acoustic guitar around, and while I’ve played electrics off and on I’d never actually had one of my own.

    The side of the box in which my gift came is adorned with a few pics and text indicating a “red hot guitar with amplifier pak” awaits inside. Indeed, when one opens up the box one does find a decent little axe (color black) along with an unassuming 9-volt battery-powered amp. Plus picks, an extra set of strings, a tuner, and even an instructional DVD. Designed as a starter set, I’d imagine, for the novice player.

    The amp surprisingly puts out a fair amount of noise, and if one turns up the gain and fiddles with the knobs a bit, it is possible to mimic a fuzzy Zeppelinish vibe, even if it sounds more like yr playing inside a closet than for an arena full of head bangers.

    My acoustic style is generally quiet and reserved. I do not use a pick, and unless I’m teaching myself pop songs by the Flamin’ Groovies or Ween or Cheap Trick, I’m usually just softly plucking away at short little instrumentals I’ve made up. Lots of arpeggios and gentle, sweet (or sad, depending on yr POV) melodies that probably wouldn’t disturb you from your book over there in the next room.

    The electric is a different story. Took me all of five minutes to get the distortion fully cranked so as to showcase stumbling-but-passable fakes of “The Ocean,” “Spirit of Radio,” and “Back in Black.”

    John Lee Hooker's 'House of the Blues' (1960)Am also unexpectedly enjoying playing routine blues progressions -- something I don’t tend to do much on the acoustic -- which on the electric sound somehow fuller and more soulful. To me, anyway. Again, we’re talking mostly fakery, but in my mind these modest little blues bits might as well be House of the Blues-era John Lee Hooker earnestly stomping out a series of blistering, burning howls into the unforgiving darkness. It is “red hot”!

    Was trying to come up with a poker analogy so as to justify writing about my electric guitar. I suppose playing the acoustic is like nursing the small stack, carefully picking spots while not causing too much trouble for everyone else. Meanwhile, the electric is like having the chips to do some damage, or at the very least annoy yr neighbors. Hey hey, mama! Listen to me!

    Hope whatever gifts sent yr way were rockin’, too.

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    Friday, December 26, 2008

    Tommy Angelo’s Elements of Poker

    Tommy Angelo's 'Elements of Poker' (2007)I know I just said I was primed to read some non-pokery stuff, but let me share a quick review of another poker book I recently finished -- Tommy Angelo’s Elements of Poker (2007).

    Had been looking forward to reading this one for some time now. And I’ll go ahead and admit I knew I was going to like Elements of Poker even before I started it.

    I’d become somewhat familiar with Angelo’s writing (and overall outlook) during the last few months via his blog and website. I’d also heard his interview over on the Two Plus Two Pokercast a while back (the 8/18/08 episode), which I recommend highly to anyone interested in listening to thoughtful discussion about poker and/or getting to know Angelo. On top of that, I’d had a few folks recommend his book to me whose opinions I trust, including Tim Peters who reviewed Elements of Poker for Card Player back in February. (Read his review here.)

    There were at least a couple of specific reasons why I knew I’d like Angelo’s book even before I started it. For one, I have read a lot of strategy books this year, perhaps two dozen or more. And, as anyone who has picked up one knows, while strategy books can be interesting and useful, they can also be pretty damned tedious.

    Angelo’s book is most definitely not a strategy book per se, although he does have a few moments here and there where he talks about certain situations in ways that resemble straightforward strategic advice. But that really isn’t Angelo’s primary concern. Rather, he focuses more directly on describing and analyzing how poker players think -- both at the table and away from the table -- and then gives us some ideas about applying that understanding in beneficial ways.

    All of which means just a glance at the table of contents listing the 144 “elements” covered by the book encouraged me that I was in for something a little more engaging than what one usually finds in a typical poker book these days.

    I could see that some of the listed “elements” clearly focused on psychological issues, such as “Emotions,” “Fears,” “Hard Tilt,” “Soft Tilt,” and “Finger Tilt” (the latter specific to online play). Others appeared to concern practical matters with which I knew I personally wanted some help, such as “Quitting,” “Winning, Losing, and Breaking Even,” “The Chat Box,” “Focus,” and “Awareness.” I also saw quite a few “elements” listed which were highly suggestive (and intriguing) even if I had no idea what they’d be about, e.g., “Gobsmacked,” “Low-Hanging Fruit,” “Kuzzycan,” “Mum Poker,” “Fastrolling,” “Fantasy Poker,” “The Path of Leak Resistance,” “A Process of Illumination,” and so forth.

    The other reason why I knew I’d like Angelo’s book is because of what I’m going to have to refer to as a decidedly “existentialist” bent to the man’s thinking. This is something I’d picked up on from the earlier pieces by him I’d read as well as the Two Plus Two interview, and which (now that I have read it I can say) also characterizes Elements of Poker. Let me explain.

    By referring to Angelo (or his ideas) as “existentialist,” I don’t mean to suggest anything about Angelo he himself doesn’t intend to advance in his writings and coaching. Rather, I am trying simply to point out that Angelo does what many existentialist thinkers and writers tend to do, that is, he makes meaning of himself and the world around him, then presents his interpretation in a way that does not insist itself upon his readers (with the kind of absurd self-righteousness that sometimes seems to guide other poker authors).

    Rather, Angelo seems instinctively to understand that we all make our own meaning. And while he might be able to guide his readers (or the “clients” he coaches), ultimately we’re all on our own.

    There are several passages in the book that relate to what I’m trying to say here about Angelo, but I’ll just refer to a couple. Both come from the first, long section of “Universal Elements” that Angelo says apply to all forms of poker -- cash games, tournaments, internet poker, and “table poker” (what Angelo calls live games).

    Back cover of 'Elements of Poker'One passage concerns “Streaks” and their significance. Angelo thought enough of this one to print it on the back of the book, actually. The passage begins “All of my good streaks and all of my bad streaks of every length and depth have had one thing in common. They did not exist in your mind. They only existed in my mind.”

    From there, Angelo explains how “there is no inherent existence to streaks.” In other words, they are invented in the player’s mind -- inevitably, really -- as a way of making meaning out of his or her poker playing, even if “the truth is there is only the hand you are playing.” (And, of course, when it comes to that hand you are playing, you are in charge of deciding what it means.)

    Another passage that illustrates this “existentialist” way of thinking about poker comes in a section called “The Object of the Game.” There is one object to poker -- i.e., to collect the most cabbage -- which tends to dominate our thinking about the game. However, there are many, many other objects to poker, too, such as those having to do with playing well (which, as we all know, doesn’t always translate perfectly into netting us the greatest profit).

    As a suggestion for reorienting one’s focus in constructive ways, Angelo here tells us to consider occasionally “making up your own object of the game.” For example, one might enter a session with the object to avoid calling raises out of the big blind. Or one might make the object to avoid table talk (or chat). Again, the suggestion here relates back to the (existentialist) idea that we make our own meaning. An incredibly powerful idea, actually. (See my posts from last spring on Sartre’s Gambler -- Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 -- if yr innersted in more on this topic.)

    There’s a lot else to recommend about Elements of Poker, including his sense of humor, his uncanny ability to identify and describe various poker-related concepts, and his playful approach to language. I could list several examples of each, but this short quote from the section titled “Fluctuation” succinctly demonstrates all three: “At the poker table, we can’t help but keep track of ‘how we’re doing.’ We assign special meaning to tiny segments of our fluctuation. If you fluctuate down and it gets you down, you’re fluct. That’s why it’s best not to give a fluc.”

    Like I said, I was predisposed to like this book before I even began it. And it did not disappoint. Nor will it when I read it again (which I already know I will). And I tend to think most readers of this blog would probably like the book as well. So let me suggest if someone happened to give you a gift card over on Amazon, you might consider using it to pick up a copy of Elements of Poker. You can also just head over to Angelo’s website and buy a copy (personally inscribed) over there.

    Up to you, though. Because I know of this (and every post), you will make what you will.

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    Thursday, December 25, 2008

    Season’s Greetings

    Off to see family today. Like most of youse, I’d expect. ’Tis the season.

    Vera Valmore got me a few neat presents. She fixed up a picture frame with various photos from my summer at the WSOP. There’s one of me in there stationed in the media box, intently hunched over my laptop in the foreground, with about a half-dozen other reporters to my right all lined up and doing the same. Very cool.

    Vera also gave me a novel, Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. The posthumously-published work by the Spaniard was translated into English this year. Has received a ton of acclaim, inclusion on fiction of the year lists, etc. Looks like one of those mammoth, “tour de force”-type literary works (about 900 pages), with lots of different elements mixed in, including some “hard-boiled.” Will probably start this one right away. As I mentioned a little while back, I’ve been anxious to read some non-pokery stuff. And this looks like a perfect one with which to start doing that.

    Meanwhile, I bought my brother a copy of a different kind of tour de force, The Truth About Chuck Norris: 400 Facts About the World’s Greatest Human. He might finish his before I finish mine.

    Good to take a break and see everybody, reconnect with family, watch some hoops and/or football, etc. Put all the applesauce aside for a couple of days and relax. Unless, of course, applesauce is being served with the ham, then you put it on your plate and eat it up.

    Anyhow, if any of youse happened to check your blogs today and found mine, thanks again! And best wishes to you and yours.

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    Wednesday, December 24, 2008

    An Early Xmas Gift

    An Early Xmas GiftAm easing back into playing following that bad run a couple of weeks back. Just brief sessions here and there amid the gift-wrapping and last-minute shopping. Was at a $25 max. pot-limit Omaha game yesterday and had kind of an interesting hand come up. The hand actually illustrated something I had come to recognize in my own play during my bad run, namely, an overly passive, oh-dear-what-if-my-opponent-has-the-nuts kind of style that is destined to lose you money. Especially at PLO.

    The hand was at a full ring PLO25 table. A couple of orbits before, I had been involved in about a $30 pot against a player I’ll call TinyTim. In that hand, I’d picked up 8cAsAh9s in middle position and open-raised pot (to 85 cents). A couple of players folded, then TinyTim reraised pot (to $2.90), leaving himself about $12 behind. When the table folded back to me, I decided I liked my other two cards well enough to go ahead and gamble, and we reraised each other until TinyTim was all in. Turned out he had AcQcAdQh, and when a third club came out on the river, he took the pot.

    Such is life. I wasn’t felted, though I only had a few bucks left, so I rebought, and after a while had a stack of $30.65. Meanwhile, TinyTim had gradually slipped back down to $28.75 when the following hand took place.

    I was in late position where I was dealt 8s5c7cKs. Kind of an iffy hand (be a lot nicer with the ace instead of the king), but good enough to try to see a cheap flop with it. Three players limped, and I did as well. So did the player to my left. Then TinyTim raised to $1.25 -- not quite a full-pot raise. The button called the raise, as did the small blind. The big blind folded, a couple more players called, then the short-stacked player to my left decided to push all in for $4.20 total.

    So much for the cheap flop. I debated a moment, then called hoping to we were about to see a nice, big family pot here. A sketchy move, really, as TinyTim could very well be primed to repop it. But he didn’t. He just called the raise, as did three other players. When the preflop action had completed, we had six players in the hand, two of whom were now all in, and an overall pot of around 26 bucks.

    The flop came 6sAc2s. I had a king-high flush draw, and some faint backdoor possibilities. We all checked to TinyTim who made a frightened-looking bet of $2. The sort of bet that looks like he has a couple of kings or queens, or maybe something that completely whiffed like J-10-9-8. The other two players still with chips both called, and sitting there looking at 16-to-1 or whatever, I called as well.

    The turn was the 4c. Now I had two flush draws, plus a wrap straight draw. I was almost interested enough to bet out at this point, but when it checked to me I checked as well, mentally gauging what size bet I’d be willing to call in this spot. TinyTim again made a bet of $2, and again both of the other players called. With $38 or so in the middle, I was more than glad to part with two more bucks to see the river.

    The river was the Tc. I’d made a club flush, though the highest club in my hand was a seven. And with five other players involved, I wasn’t confident I had the best hand. It again checked to me, I checked, and TinyTim checked behind.

    Showdown. I show my flush, and one by one all of the other players muck. God Bless Us, Every One! I’d won the $40-ish pot!

    What about TinyTim, our preflop raiser whose small bets on the flop and turn we all called? What did he have?


    That’s right. With that big crowd forming preflop, TinyTim had just called the short stack’s reraise with his double-suited aces. Then, after flopping top set and the nut flush draw, he bet just two bucks into a $26 pot. Then, after the turn put a possible straight on the board, he’d kept on with the tiptoeing, betting just two bucks again.

    Any post-flop aggression at all -- from anybody -- and I’m almost assuredly outta there. But in his effort to keep the pot small, TinyTim gave it all away.

    I’ll be honest -- after a not-so-hot couple of weeks, I was more than glad to accept TinyTim’s early Xmas gift. Like I say, I’d been feeling snakebit to the point where I, too, would get a little antsy any time I’d be dealt aces or flopped strong hands/draws versus multiple opponents like that. (Of course, I certainly wasn’t hesitating quite so much after flopping top sets & nut flush draws!) So it was nice to fall into one like that, for a change.

    Think I’ll go pour myself a cup of Egg Nog to mark the occasion.

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    Tuesday, December 23, 2008

    Lost in the Funhouse

    'Lost in the Funhouse' by John Barth (1968)Once upon a time there was a story that began once upon a time there was a story that began once upon a time.

    I remain on my self-imposed “poker sabbatical” for the most part, although I did for hop on Stars for awhile the other day to play a short session of limit hold’em. Has been months since I’d played LHE (or anything other than pot-limit Omaha, really), and since I’d recently withdrawn most of my cabbage I chose a full ring $0.50/$1.00 game. After several months of wild swings and $100-plus pots, I realize I could probably stand some tamer times at the tables.

    Of course, even if the pots are small, the play can still be batty.

    Had a hand early on where I was in the cutoff and picked up KdKs. A new player, Ambrose, had just come to the table and took the seat to my left, and had chosen to post the big blind. The table folded to Ambrose who raised, I three-bet, the big blind cold-called the $1.50, and Ambrose called as well. The flop came Td3s2h. The big blind checked, Ambrose bet, I raised, the big blind folded, and Ambrose called.

    The turn was the 2d, pairing the board. This time Ambrose checked, I bet, and he just called. The river was the 3c, pairing the board a second time. Ambrose checked, and I hesitated before betting the buck. He check-raised me (ack), I called, and he turned over 3h6c.

    That preflop raise was cheeky, although I’ll sometimes do that if the table folds to me after I’ve posted the big blind from middle/late position, too (regardless of cards). Oh, well. Losing to three-outers always stinks, but it was just a $12.25 pot. Can surely live with that.

    Meanwhile, I was seeing some pretty strange play from certain players. One dude in particular, Peter, sitting to Ambrose’s right, seemed to be playing way too many hands. Then came this bizarre hand, where Peter ended up pitted against Uncle Karl. (Names have been changed here, as always.) You RSS readers, definitely click on through -- it’s worth it:

    Maybe Peter thought he was on UltimateBet, where he perhaps still would have a chance at the pot after calling that river bet even though all five community cards bested his lousy trey-deuce?

    Peter’s unflagging optimism would serve him well, though, and soon he would build back up to $20 or so. That was about the time a hand came in which I picked up 5d4d in late position. I called after watching most of the table limped in, including Peter. Flop came all diamonds. Table folded to me, and it looked like Peter was the only one interested in sticking around. And he was excited, too! Perfect.

    The turn and river brought no more diamonds -- and lots more bets. By the end of the hand, Peter and I would each ultimately put about seven big bets in the middle, after which he turned over AdQd. D’oh! That pot ended up pushing $20, I think.

    Suddenly had this weird feeling I’d wandered down this road before. Many times. The funhouse of micro stakes limit hold’em. There was a story that began once upon a time there was a story that began once upon a time there was a story.

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