Thursday, January 03, 2008

Poker Bliss 

More on the Argosy, the boat 20 minutes away from me.

Dann wanted to go hit the tables again last night, but at the last minute, I begged off, as I had some end-of-year paperwork to finish up and some other random assorted biz to handle. Plus, with the shitty weather, I was concerned that the room would be full of regulars and nits, making for a slow evening.

I screwed up, damnit. I shoulda gone.

Here's Dann's thoughts this morning:


I left the tightest 1-3 NL game ever and found paradise.

You missed the single greatest 3-6 table in the history of poker.

I got sucked out a ton and still won 60BB. I just couldn't leave. It was 4am before I left. The table was just too damn good. Everyone played pre-flop, few raises, people would fold into $100 pots on the river if re-raised, and everyone was friendly and sober and enjoying themselves. I talked a couple of donators into staying because they were having a good time. Best of all? These were all regulars.

Oh, and get this: I flopped a straight but someone ended up tying me. I had to split -- and still won half a $212 pot -- in 3/6!

Again, these were regulars for the most part. It makes me realize these people just found poker instead of slots and are perfectly happy to lose it all.

Honestly, the best part was that I really was having a good time and enjoying the good conversation. Always makes it more fun.

Jeesh, people can study until their heads explode to eek out an additional $1 profit per hour. Or they can stay chatty to keep a couple donators happy to pull in an easy $100 score.

Especially when they're happy and having fun while losing. it's a rarity. god. you could have written a book about that game last night

He emailed me his chip stack at one point:


Good gravy, I'm itching to get some sessions in ASAP.

Quick video segue: here's a wild 30 second clip my wife just emailed me. Wanna see how high a horse can jump without a running head start?


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Poker Rules and Etiquette 

I've been playing much more poker at the boat than I'd care to admit over these past holidays, but hell, the games are good. Dann (from MMAJunkie) and I went to the Argosy on Friday night, and the list was over forty players deep.

The 5/10 2k max NL game was rocking and rolling with lots of kids with lots of big stacks.

Bengals running back Chris Perry was playing in the room.

Course, I got felted twice. With at least four self-appointed table captains in the game, critiquing every hand, it was wonderful pokerlicious fun.

So with that thought in mind, allow me to share this poker etiquette guide.


The Low Limit Hold'em Player's Guide to Table Etiquette

Many new players feel intimidated by casino poker with its seemingly baffling rituals and pomp. Even the seasoned player will make the occasional faux pas, so a short refresher may be helpful to avoid looking like a "newbie" in your favorite cardroom.


Protecting your hand means just what you would expect: Cup your hands concealing the fact that you even have cards. Wait until the action passes you and the dealer turns the next card before calling out, "Hey, what about me?"


Having the button confers upon you an enormous positional advantage. Thus you will want to get the button as often as possible. If the button is to your immediate right or left, but the player in that position doesn't seem to be paying attention, simply slide the button in front of yourself.


Never post a blind until the dealer asks you for the second time. If the dealer forgets to ask, you are not required to pay. Often they make a mistake. Ask how much it is.


Players are often unsure when it is appropriate to ask for time. In general this is proper in any of the following conditions:

You are first to act.
You are last to act.
It is your turn to act.
You are looking at the menu.
You are reading the Racing Form.


Chips should always be splashed into the closest side pot.


Always discuss all hands in play. If three deuces flop, loudly proclaim that no one can have quads because you folded the deuce. The other players will offer their sympathy and maybe even announce what they folded. This makes the game more interesting and is merely a courtesy to those no longer in the hand.


The best hand will want to build suspense by waiting until everyone else has shown. However the worst hand will also want to do likewise to avoid the embarrassment that comes from letting other players see what crummy cards he played. This tends to create a deadlock where no player is willing to show a hand.

If this happens, simply reach out and sweep up the chips for yourself exclaiming, "Hey if no one else wants it.". Alternatively invoke the speed rule: The first person to show gets to take a chip out of the pot. The last to show is forced to throw one additional chip in.


is not only amusing, it is sometime vital in order to get a player with a better hand to muck his cards. You run the risk of being accused of "angling", so smooth things over by offering to give the pot to your opponent. Exception: If the pot is large, request the decision of the floorman - it cannot hurt.


lacks class. That is why the expression "Nice Catch, sir!" was invented. Use this expression on every hand you lose even if the sir in question is female. If a person criticizes you, demand to know why "If they are so good, why are they playing low limit?"

If you play 72off for the hell of it and flop a full house and some wiseguy starts spouting off, "Malmuth say..." or "Lee Jones says..." immediately cut them off and say, "statistics-shamistics, those guys are snobs and there is more to poker than mathematics." This is not only a clever thing to say it is also correct. Remember even Einstein who was poor at math, went on to discover matter or something and become fabulously wealthy.


Once consider a sign of immaturity, this is now the hallmark of the seasoned professional. New players however are often confused when it is appropriate to fling cards at the dealer. This is really a matter of taste but the rule of thumb is to do this whenever you have been dealt two consecutive bad starting hands. If you have pocket Aces cracked, flinging of the cards is automatic. Aim for the face. Flicking lit matches at the dealer is dangerous and is not advised.

If the flop gives you the nut monster hand but no one calls, it is OK to fling the cards over the dealers head onto the neighboring table.

Flinging cards at another player is a high variance play. He may be armed. It is safer to just fling your cards across the table in an attempt to foul his hand. If he protests, remind him that it is his responsibility to put a chip on his cards.


Although the floorman's decision is final, this rule is frequently misunderstood. What this really means is that the decision of the final floorman is final. If the first floorman does not side with you, do not give up until you have called over every floorman on that shift.


Request a color change when you have amassed exactly 101 chips. Immediately break down the big chip on the following hand. Ask the dealer for one of each color chip. Chip runners should only be used when the dealer has begun to ignore your requests. As a side note, it is OK to order food and drinks from the chip runner if there are no food servers or cocktail waitresses nearby.


Requesting a deck change cannot alter the laws of probability and only serves to slow the game down. Thus you should only ask for one if someone else is winning.


You are permitted breaks from the table for restroom visit, eating, or just wandering about to stretch your legs. Typically 20 minutes is permitted, but there are ways to increase this, by "lobbying at the table."

Request an out button while you eat dinner at the table. Once you have finished, you have an additional 20 minutes to walk off that meal. Return to the table, play one or two hands to reset the clock and then wander off to chat with one of the waitresses for an additional 20 minutes. When you return, post only one of your blinds. If the dealer reminds you that you missed both, ask incredulously, "how much!?" Request an out button again while you watch your own game from the rail.

Or better yet go off and play Pai Gow. There is no rule that you can't play in more than one game at a time.


is generally prohibited except that spouses are encouraged to share chips when one is getting low on funds. There is also the custom of the lucky chip. Whenever you win a pot, it is customary to toss a lucky chip to each of your friends or to the chip leader. That person should immediately acknowledge your generosity by rolling a lucky chip back to you. Sometimes you can get everyone rolling chips to each other.


Whenever any deuce flops, loudly exclaim, "doooces never loooses!" or "Acey Deucey Never Loosey." You just cannot say it often enough. It is just as clever the thousandth time you hear it. Many hands in Holdem have cute widely known names such as "Big Slick" or "Heinz57", "Broderick Crawford" and even the "Montana Banana." But there was a time before these hands had names - someone had to name them, why not you? It is perfectly acceptable to christen hitherto unnamed hands with whatever strikes your fancy. Example: "Hooks-n-crooks" for Jacks and Sevens. Use your imagination. Any two cards could be "The Big 'W'". Obscurity and pithiness is what you are striving for. Even Mike Caro suggests that feigning insanity can help your table image.


Exist on either side of the dealers and are reserved for smokers who are just joining the game. It is OK to smoke while seated there, but if noticed you must hold the cigarette an extra foot further away from the table. Notice that if you smoke standing up, you are not violating the rule.


Toking, or tipping the dealer is a personal decision. Since dealers often claim that they are not at fault when they ruin your hand on the river, by symmetry they are equally not responsible when you win. They cannot have it both ways. So why bother? Tipping should be considered charity that you might give a pathetic homeless person. If you do tip, ask for a receipt.

Another way to appear generous and look like a tipper, is after winning a big pot, just ask the dealer if you toked him. Often he will not remember. There - you just saved some money. If he says no, ask him if he's sure. If he still insists, say you are pretty sure that he's wrong and that you already toked him, but that you'll be certain to get him next time.


Tablecops are sniveling irritating players usually heavily stuck and imagines that it is his or her responsibility to point out every minor infraction such as folding out of turn, or showing hands to other players still in the hand or using a 2-way radio to communicate with ones partner. If you should be unlucky enough to find one of these sanctimonious holy-rollers at your table, a simple reminder such as, "Just because you are losing doesn't mean we can't have fun here" should suffice to reset the mood. Ask the dealer if you can have the whiner's seat when he busts out.

If you follow this advice, you will quickly gain the respect and admiration of all the regulars and you just might increase your expectation by a bet or two. Bet? Who bet? Is it on Me?

Monday, December 31, 2007

A Poker Poem 

Happy New Year!

It's that time again:


'Twas past midnight, damp and dreary, I in bed awake but weary
Trying vainly to establish with sound slumber a rapport,
When I heard a sound so muffled, sounded like cards being shuffled
Coming from the other side of my sturdy bedroom door.

I tossed and turned and said, "It is the wind and nothing more".

But the sound it was remaining. With bravado in me draining
I donned my robe and tiptoed to my sturdy bedroom door.
I opened it a crack, peeked out and saw the back
Of a man who was just sitting, playing cards upon the floor.

"'Tis a nightmare of my mind," I said, "Just this and nothing more".

'Twas a cloak draped 'cross his back and a Raven, shiny black,
Was facing him and pacing in a circle on the floor.
My jaw dropped when I heard the soft voice of that huge bird
Saying, "Deal me in this card game for a couple hands or more".

And the man tossed four chips to him; four blue chips and nothing more.

Then I must have made a sound, for he slowly turned around
And his face was pale as misty, eerie fog that hugs the shore.
Then he whispered to me low, "I'm the ghost of Allen Poe
Who has come here to play poker as I did in days of yore.

'Tis a poker game I'm craving. Only this and nothing more".

"Won't you sit in for a while?" he asked me with a smile,
"It will make a better card game than it was an hour before".
And, not wanting to incite him, I slowly walked beside him
Meekly asking what the stakes were as I sat down on the floor.

"Penny-ante," said the stranger. Quoth the Raven, "Nothing more."

From the start I had a streak of luck that reached its peak
By my winning all the pennies that the two had owned before.
Then the man said, oh so slyly, (as the Raven grinned so wryly),
"This low stake game we're playing I'm beginning to abhor.

"Then by all means", said the Raven, 'we should surely play for more".

Then the man, with gesture bold, from his cloak withdrew some gold
In a bag that was so heavy that to move it was a chore.
His sly look I failed to heed for my soul was filled with greed
As I saw the golden coins from the sack begin to pour.

"Yes," I whispered weakly, "We should surely play for more".

Then he said in voice so solemn as he stacked coins in a column,
"The hour grows late; I'm weary, so we'll play but one hand more.
If you win, my gold you'll own. If I win then it's your home
That will be mine to have and keep...to keep forevermore".

Quoth the Raven: "Evermore".

I said, "That's fair, I feel." Then the man began to deal
And the cards I had were aces and the aces numbered four.
I said, "My hand is pat and I'm only sorry that
The pot has been established and that we can bet no more."

Quoth the Raven: "Bet some more!"

"He speaks true," I then was told, and the man pulled out more gold
And tossed it with the other coins that were strewn across the floor.
"But I cannot match your bet," I sadly said, "but, yet,
I must have something left; something you two would adore".

Said the Raven, "You in bondage. Only this and nothing more".

"He speaks wisely", said the man. "If you want to bet, you can.
But lose and you're our slave and servant now and evermore".
I stared at my four aces, smiled and looked at my guest's faces,
Sealed the bet and spread my aces down and out across the floor.

Said the Raven in a whisper, "I see aces numb'ring four!"

The face of Poe just glowered as his poker hand he lowered
'Til it covered my four aces that were resting on the floor.
Then amid a quiet hush, I saw his small straight flush
And knew that I was beaten and was doomed forevermore.

Said the Raven, "You in bondage here and now and evermore".

Now on dark nights, cold and dreary, my sore body grows so weary
As I dust and wash and clean and sweep the droppings on the floor.
While my master and his Raven live in comfort in their haven
With their slave who's held in bondage, held in bondage


A Strategy Up Their Sleeves 

An interesting NY Times article about the latest breed of card-counters in blackjack.



When he hits the blackjack tables at the Foxwoods casino in eastern Connecticut, Mr. S is no longer a construction worker in his 20s laboring for a weekly paycheck. Dressed casually and acting as if he couldn’t care less what anyone thinks, he plays the part of a pushy rich kid who has no problem making bets that often exceed $1,000 a hand.

His act is observed knowingly by friends — his teammates, really, who hover incognito around the blackjack table. With time, Mr. S’s rich-boy persona may earn them all lots of money.

For the last seven months, the five friends — including a paralegal, a beer distributor and a pool cleaner — have been hitting the casinos in Atlantic City and Connecticut, risking their $50,000 stake in hope of winning hundreds of thousands of dollars by a strategy known as card counting.

Each team member knows how to count cards on his own, meaning he recognizes when the odds have shifted from the casino’s favor to the player’s. It’s then — when there are still a disproportionate number of picture cards and tens left to be played — that a card counter dramatically raises his bets.

Inspired by Ben Mezrich’s best seller, “Bringing Down the House,” a 2002 chronicle of a group of M.I.T. math whizzes who collectively won millions in Las Vegas in the 1990s, the team began visiting casinos in June, joining many others who came to card counting through the same route. The card-counters’ ranks will likely swell even more this spring with the release of “21,” a film based on Mr. Mezrich’s book.

Mr. S and his friends agreed to let a reporter observe two of their outings on the condition that they be identified only by an initial. Although counting cards isn’t against the law, casinos in most states can legally bar anyone suspected of the practice.

Foxwoods, the largest and one of the most profitable casinos in the country, doubts it loses much money to card counters, largely because it is a skill difficult to master. But anyone suspected of counting is shown the door. “Our position is that card counters disrupt the fun and excitement of other people playing the game,” said John A. O’Brien, the president of Foxwoods.

Because there are wild swings in the amounts a lone card counter wagers — a sure sign to a pit boss monitoring the tables — playing by oneself presents a problem. This is why the members of the blue-collar crew, like others before them, play as a team. At Foxwoods, Mr. S takes the role of the big player. Mr. T, the pool cleaner, stars as the high roller at Mohegan Sun, the other big Connecticut casino. The others serve as spotters, wagering the minimum and silently signaling when it’s time for the high roller to sit down and bet big.

For Mr. S, the role of a “pompous jerk” — Mr. T’s term — can be effective. When the team made its maiden voyage as card counters, Mr. S got the signal that a deck was rich with tens. He ignored a player who told him to wait. When she declined to slide over a seat so that he could play two hands at once, he barked, “I’m betting real money here.” The pit boss, part of whose job is to pamper high rollers, ordered her to scoot over.

Mr. S was dealt two sevens. The dealer had a two showing. Mr. S split the pair and doubled his bet — the correct play by the numbers, even if the casual player is reluctant to split anything but aces.

“I’m glad my husband is not here to see this,” the woman said.

“At least he doesn’t have to hear your mouth,” Mr. S replied.

The team won $12,000 that night. But its members were hardly ready to celebrate. Far more card counters lose than win. Mistakes are easy to make, and discipline is hard to maintain. Besides, $12,000 was a pittance compared with what they hoped to win.

MR. T and Mr. S. started going to casinos in early 2006. They didn’t play as a team but pooled their money and split their winnings and losses. A half-dozen times over the next six months, they won — until a trip to Las Vegas that summer. “We got crushed,” Mr. S said. They lost thousands.

The Las Vegas trip motivated the pair to adopt a team approach. They recruited Mr. K, the paralegal, and Mr. J, who declined to provide any details about himself. Later, a second Mr. J, a beer distributor, joined the group.

They also sought help from Mike Aponte, one of the stars of “Bringing Down the House,” and a founder of the Blackjack Institute in New York City. He says he has given private lessons to more than 50 people, most of them well off and between the ages of 25 and 40. These daylong individual sessions cost $5,000, more for a group. Several hundred others have paid $899 to attend daylong group workshops.

Mr. Aponte teaches the “Hi-Lo count system.” There are more complex strategies, but the advantage of Hi-Lo is its simplicity. A counter scans the cards face up on the table, subtracting one point for a picture card, a ten or an ace, and adding one point for the cards two through six. You ignore the sevens, eights and nines. The higher the count and the deeper the dealer is into the plastic card case, or shoe, the more the odds favor the player.

Mr. Aponte counseled the team: Learn the shift changes of dealers and pit bosses. Play for an hour or two before a shift change, take a break and then play again when a new crew is watching the floor. Communicate the count to the big player with code words when he joins a table: “baseball,” say, means the count is a plus 9, “football” plus 11.

Look natural, blend in, don’t get greedy. “You need to practice until you can do this in your sleep,” Mr. Aponte said.

That they did. Through the first half of 2007, they met as many as four times a week, dealing cards to one another, testing their ability to keep the count during a fast-moving game. That strained relations with girlfriends and bosses, and caused tensions inside the team.

Mr. K, the paralegal, felt the strain more than the others. Their sessions ate into both his overtime and his sleep. It also took him longer than the others to master the system. He grew so frustrated at one point, he threw a chair and stormed out, vowing not to return. “To be honest,” he said, “I wouldn’t still be doing this if not for” his friend Mr. T.

The four attended a refresher course at Mr. Aponte’s Blackjack Institute last April (where this reporter first met them). “Mike basically told us we were ready,” Mr. T said. Still, a month or so passed before they felt ready to start risking their $50,000 stake.

The typical blackjack player helps enrich casinos like Foxwoods. The Blackjack Institute says that the average weekend player who bets $50 a hand for five hours can expect to lose $400. Even the gambler who plays perfectly, according to the math, will still lose money, though more slowly: $100 over five hours, because the house still holds a slight advantage.

But a card-counting team can expect around a 1-percent edge over the casino, Mr. Aponte said. It can leverage the advantage by wagering more money when the odds shift in its favor.

Mr. T and his team play for lower stakes than some of the more renowned card-counting teams. The M.I.T. team routinely risked $5,000 to $10,000 per hand. The high roller on Mr. T’s team typically wagers between $200 and $600 a hand, though he often plays two hands simultaneously.

Lower stakes may mean less scrutiny by casino personnel, but that doesn’t make the men less paranoid. One trick employed by Mr. S and Mr. T is to give the impression that they are degenerate gamblers. They’ll lose $1,000 on a hand — and then dig into their pockets for more chips, rather than sit behind a small mountain of chips.

“That makes us look like losers rather than winners,” Mr. T said.

As of mid-December, after a dozen or so trips, the team was up $45,000. That’s not to say the adventure has been without its confidence-rattling moments. There was the time in November when the members lost $10,000 in 30 minutes of play. And on a recent visit to Atlantic City, they were down $13,000, and suddenly working to stay calm.

“We all decided to keep on playing, but it was hard,” Mr. T said. “We’re supposed to trust in the math, but in truth it hurts when we lose like that.”

They still try to get together to practice and test one another at least once a week, a routine certain to become more rigorous in the coming weeks. Soon, the crew plans on visiting Las Vegas for a week or two, depending on how much time can be negotiated with wives, girlfriends and jobs.

“That’ll be the big test,” Mr. T said in a tone that fell between confidence and trepidation.

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