The Cards Spoke

After 5 years of silence, I'm back! Check out the new poker blog.



I came for the bonus, but found a better deal

After checking my Empire Bonus account, I realized I wouldn't be able to get the required amount of hands unless I played a couple hundred hands. The in-laws are here all of next week, and after that I'm travelling to DC for 4 days for a conference. After that is Vegas, so I needed 350 more hands to collect Empire's $100 bonus before the expiration date. Luckily for me, my wife's family wanted to watch The Lord of the Rings, so I figured I had at least a solid 2 hours in front of the computer. I decided that the .50/1 games would allow me to play 3 tables on autopilot, and I could get in around 150 hands in an hour.

I sat at 3 shorthanded .50/1 tables, 2 of which filled up quickly. The pace here was unbelievable. I struggled to keep up, and was losing quickly at one table, breaking even at another, and winning at the third. My goal here was just to break even, and I found myself semi-bluffing and making other ridiculously bad plays at this no-fold-em level. After about 10 minutes, I realized that the pace was just too much for me-- I can't believe there was a period where I actually thought playing 3 $2-4 tables might be more profitable than two $3-6 tables. Anyway, in my haze of checking and calling, I found that there were actually some good players at this level. A few players had over $200 on the table, and played quite well... the games seemed more or less the same as the $3-6 games, so I guess the only reason to play at the smallest tables is because of bankroll concerns. But you'll have to win a ridiculous amount of big bets an hour to approach the profitability of the $3-6 game. Maybe they were bots.

After losing about $10 combined on all 3 tables in 20 minutes, I bailed and decided to try the $3-6 games. I forgot how good these games can be on Friday night, and restricted myself to 2 shorthanded tables. After dropping $50 bucks on both tables, I was irritated that I had just pissed away my entire bonus. But I reminded myself of the swings in the shorthanded games, and sat tight. To make matters worse, my wife's impressionable younger brother (13) was looking on as I missed my flush and straight draws. Not only was I further exposing him to the dangerous world of hold em (I taught him the game yesterday with plastic chips), I was showing him that I was a loser. Ah well, maybe it's for the best-- if I had found this game in college, with no bankroll, I'm sure that the $3-6 games would have busted me many times. But with a little patience, the tide started to turn. I won 3 big pots heads up with a horrible player, getting me back to even. I even stole a couple pots on the river with busted draws, and started playing well. My wife's brother made exclamations in Swedish every time a pot was pushed in my direction, and life was good.

There really is something to be said for these $3-6 games. Compared to the $5-10 games, you only need to average 1.4 big bets an hour more to achieve the same win rate. This is extremely reasonable, since there are at least 2 times as many bad players at this level. I'd say that at most there are 2 bad players at the $5-10 level on average, whereas there are probably 4 at $3-6. This makes draws nearly always playable (you will have 3 callers), and top pair is nearly always good. However, it IS Friday night, which probably doubles the number of bad players.

Bottom line:
+$122 in just over an hour (playing 2 tables simultaneously), and 220 hands closer to the bonus.

I had to compare my win rate at $3-6 to $5-10 to determine just how different the two games are:
$5-10 3.56 BB/hr 2266 hands
$3-6 1.52 BB/hr 3872 hands

However, a small percentage of these $3-6 hands were played simultaneously, and a great deal were played in my first few months of poker. The numbers point to $5-10, but I still don't think it's a clear cut case.

In other, perhaps more important news, I renegotiate my salary on Monday... I'm relatively sure I can get a raise of $10K, so this may decide to move up to the big boy game at $10-20 at the B&M. The time charge is just so much better than the rake, so I feel like I should make the leap out of the muck onto land, even if the players are considerably better. I wish I had some sort of equation that spits out game profitability given the number of bad players and the rake.

I leave you with one of the funnier chats I've been a part of on Party:

A new player sits down for his first hand, and I get TT on the button. Four players. UTG folds, I reraise. SB calls, and new player in BB raises. I cap it, hoping to get heads up with new guy. But both of them call, and the flop comes 77K rainbow. Both blinds check, and I bet to see where I'm at... I figure new guy for AK, but there are so many bad players here that I figure I'll have to call him down if he raises me. SB folds, and new guy raises. I go into check and call mode, and he bets the rest of the way. He rakes in the pot with KK, after hitting the case king on the turn. Ouch. He then promptly leaves after the hand. What follows is are the SB's comments (he was a horrible player, and donated over $100 to me):

THeGremlin: last time I play here
THeGremlin: this ekim
THeGremlin: did this
THeGremlin: same thing

THeGremlin: come to table
hdoubleu: ouch
THeGremlin: get KK
hdoubleu: hit and run
THeGremlin: and run
hdoubleu: 4 kings???
THeGremlin: he did it 10 times today
THeGremlin: no
hdoubleu: got a deal with party

THeGremlin: I think 4 times 4 of a kind
THeGremlin: all the rest full house
THeGremlin: he did it over and over again and again
hdoubleu: wow
THeGremlin: he won once 600$
THeGremlin: on the 10/20 table
THeGremlin did not respond in time.
THeGremlin folds.
BEAMERBIC: playing or not?

THeGremlin: won 4 of a kind K against 4 of a kind Q
THeGremlin: last time I play here

THeGremlin: this is a not an honest site...

BEAMERBIC: SDVGERHT^&K^TYYHW@$T$%U*^&(I%^U$ ing slow ass game
THeGremlin: also good thing to remember

THeGremlin: I played today on the 15/30 table
THeGremlin: had 4 of a kind 10
THeGremlin: lost 1200$
BEAMERBIC: who was the guy?
hdoubleu: ouch
hdoubleu: what did you lose to?

THeGremlin: nver seen him
THeGremlin: he had royal flush on the river

hdoubleu: wow
THeGremlin: and before that
THeGremlin: he kept raising and raising
hdoubleu: maybe he's got the random number generator figured out


NFL Picks, 11/2

Last week: 5-2
Season: 27-13
Not a great week in the sportsbook-- the linemakers have done a good job, and there aren't many matchups I like. However, there are 4 games worth betting on, and here they are in order of confidence:

1. New England(+2.5) at Denver-- Monday
Yee haw, Danny Kanell! Last week he rode my bet right into the ground, and this week I get to bet against him. I wouldn't miss it for the world... also, the Broncs are missing two receivers (McCaffrey is one as usual), two linebackers and a tackle. The Pats have been banged up all season. Belichek will have his boys ready to go, and Shanahan has only the mighty Kanell to pilot his ship. I may go 2 units on this bet-- I'm not sure why the Pats are the dogs here... I think Denver's home record fooled the linemakers, and they didn't take into account the fact that Kanell is -14 by himself. Ok, definitely 2 units. The money line may be a better play here-- I think the pats will win by at least 3, but I'll give up the few extra bucks and take the spread for safety's sake... Lets go Pats!

2. Green Bay at Minnesota (-4.5)
A general rule of thumb for the past few years has been to never bet against B Favre. However, last year's playoff game where Favre lost to Vick may have been some sort of torch passing game. Favre has been very inconsistent this year, and at times has looked just downright bad. Add to that the following report from John Clayton:
"It's bad enough Brett Favre has to play this vital NFC North game in a dome stadium where he's 11-20 as a regular-season starter. What makes matters worse is that he's doing it with a hairline fracture in his right thumb."
However, it's not that simple-- Danger Will Robinson! The Vikings rank 30th in the NFL in pass defense, so this game will probably be a shootout (the total is currently at 48.5). I'm hoping Favre's thumb will cause a couple of picks, and Moss will have his usual big game.

3. St.Louis (-4) at San Francisco
I missed jumping on this one yesterday when the Rams were at -3, but I still think this is worth a bet. Garcia is playing hurt, and Bulger is on fire. Marshall is coming back, and should rip off a big play or 2. The Niners should have won in St. Louis on the infamous Cedric Wilson runs out the clock in the middle of the field play. But Bulger is hot now, and the Rams are looking tough. I don't like this bet all that much, as the Rams look like an overrated team to me, but Garcia's injury may prevent him from running the ball as much as he usually does, and that takes a lot away from the SF offense.

4. Carolina (-6.5) at Houston
Ok, this pick is going out on a limb a little bit... but Houston is playing without David Carr for the first time in their short history, and will be led by Tony Banks. Carolina came through for me last week, but obviously their offense is suspect. The under may be a better pick for this game, but I really like Carolina's running game and their defense as well. Carolina is a very tough team, and I think they'll run over a Houston team missing their spiritual leader.

The sportsbook bank is at 800! If I can double up by the end of the year (doubtful), I'll have the choice of dropping it into the poker bank and moving up to the non-raked 10-20 games with a bankroll of 6K (1600 Sportsbook + 2K poker profits + 2K from salary), or rolling it over into the NBA season. I think poker is a better option, as the NBA season is continous and harder to bet. For NFL games, you have more time to research the bets, and you can see more games.

May the football gods be kind.



Why I play poker

Since hold 'em is on hold while the in-laws are in town, I thought I'd take a stab at figuring out what draws me to poker. I'm happy to see that this journal has gotten over 100 hits (unique IP addresses) since I posted it to RGP... I'm honored and a little bit frightened that a few fellow travellers have found it interesting to check out my innermost poker thoughts. It's a bit scary however-- hopefully a few brave souls will offers some comments...Anyway, back to the purpose of this post... In The Big Deal, Anthony Holden suggests that his lifelong struggle to "beat the man" drew him to the game. He talks about his father's struggles with money when Holden was young, and says that perhaps his desire to overcome all worries about money drew him to the game. I think there is some of that in me, but there are other reasons as well. Here are my reasons in order of importance:

1. The immediate and tangible reward for skill
I've always wanted a world where hard work and study are justly rewarded. Alas, it isn't so in most arenas of life. I'm a pretty good programmer, but politics is always in the way in the business and even academic world. No matter how good a job you do, you are not directly compensated for your good work. Even if you make the best program in the world, as a young programmer, your boss will probably end up getting most of the credit anyway. The first paper that I had published was stolen by my advisor-- after promising me that I would be the main author of the paper, I wrote the paper and worked with her on revision. She suggested some revisions, which I made, and sent her the paper, which she had agreed to submit to the journal for publication. I guess I picked a bad weekend to go to Vegas-- when I got back, she told me that she had made a lot of revisions, and she had claimed authorship of the paper. I have heard this is a common occurrence for young graduate students. At work, when I create a program, the people above me get credit, and the annoying thing is that they actually believe they deserve credit, since they did a good job "managing" me (which amounts to describing in very general terms what the program should do).

In Poker, it is only you, your cards, and your chips. There is no boss. There is no politics. Your winnings are the result of your play, and only your play. Of course, luck is involved, but my effort at the table and my studies away from the table result directly in profit or loss. In other words, the poker world (for me), is pure. Thus far, I have used everything I've learned in my college probability classes (which I'd never used before) as well as a voracious appetite for reading in order to develop my game. The growth of my bankroll has been directly proportional to my poker knowledge, which satisfies me as "the way it should be." Yes, even the perfect play is often defeated by an unlikely card, but your skill will win if you can make it to the long run (whether or not you can make it to the "long run" is another story)...

2. Poker as a replacement for sport
After playing football at a relatively high level for my entire life (since I was 8 years old), I became somewhat addicted to competition (perhaps it is adrenaline I'm addicted to). I finally retired this year, after two years of semipro ball, not completely willingly-- the coach for my semipro team is a former player, and not a very good coach. It's tough to work for a boss that you feel isn't guiding you in the right direction, and it's even tougher to offer your blood, sweat, and tears up to a coach who feels that how you look in uniform is more important than how you play. Although there is nothing like the feeling of all of your neurons firing to achieve one common goal, poker offers a replacement for competitive sport.

When I was trying to catch a ball on a post route, knowing that the safety was 3 yards away and if I didn't tuck the ball immediately I would be decapitated, my reward was directly proportional to my ability to concentrate. This reward-concentration ratio also exists (to a lesser degree) in poker. If I miss a facial tick or incorrectly calculate my pot odds, my profit suffers. The key word here is intensity. If you're not at your best on the field or at the table, most likely something bad is going to happen. When you sit down at the table, no matter how tired you are, or what kind of mood your in, if you can't elevate yourself to an appropriate level of concentration, you are going to lose money. Although this isn't true in the $6-12 game I play at currently, it is definitely true at higher limits. In a game where the big bet is $60, a single mistake can eliminate your profits that you fought so hard for in the last hour.

John Updike said that retirement for athletes is like a "little death." An athlete feels the rush of adrenaline every day, feeling your muscles tense as your body obeys your brain's almost subconscious commands. Then one day, you don't feel this ever again. It's tough to swallow. I'm hoping that I'm being reborn as a poker player.

3. Poker as struggle: the way life should be
Fine, poker offers a tangible reward, as well as competition and intensity. But it also places you at the feet of fate, complete with ecstasy and heartbreak. We wander through life, seeking intense experiences, but it's tough to get them sitting behind your desk for 8 hours a day, or at the dinner table with your significant other. Enter the poker gods. The fickle poker gods can take all of your chips even if you play a hand perfectly. Or they can smile on you and give you a seat at the final table of a 200 player tournament. Knowledge is a big part of the battle, but your ability to handle the occasional bolt of lightning that coarses through you after a fish hits his two-outer on the river is also important. Life deals you many different hands... you might get a good job, or get lucky in love, but discovering these things is usually a gradual process. But the poker gods are violent-- every hand is a new battle, and you face riches or ruin (to some extent) every time you take your seat at the table. Poker offers an intensity of experience that is absent from most other arenas of my life. Although this romantic view of the game may be a bit overblown, I really feel this way when thinking about my win or loss on the drive home from the casino, and the feeling is what counts. Maybe this feeling will disappear with experience, but I hope that it won't.


I'm sure there's more to it than three italicized items in a journal, but it's a start. NFL picks coming tomorrow if I can manage to check out the games...



Sportsbook result: Fumble saves the day

I think I bit my nails down to the roots, but the ball bounced my day today. My first four bets cancelled each other out, leaving my big bet to decide whether or not I ended up in the red or black. Watching my team rally in a late comeback and a big fumble recovery in OT was quite nice. A quick recap:

 26-October-2003   Money Line   Football - Denver Broncos  -75.00 
Ahh, Danny Kanell. I can't believe after I found out he was starting I let my bet ride. Should have immediately got out of that. Guy hasn't played a game in three years and he's going against Ray Lewis. This qualifies as my worst bet of the season.

 26-October-2003   Spread   Football - Seattle Seahawks  -80.25 
Well, Kitna and the Bengals proved me wrong. This was a bad bet... I haven't seen much of Seattle, and I was mostly going on statistics here.

 26-October-2003   Spread   Football - Tampa Bay Buccaneer   +75.00 
To toot my own horn, I was on the money here. Quincy and the Dallas high-school offense was confused by TB's complex defense, and ended up being shut out.

 26-October-2003   Spread   Football - Tennessee Titans     +75.00 
I didn't see the highlights of this game, but it was a blowout (30-17 tenn), as expected. Tennessee is tough (Jacksonville is not), and the handicappers don't seem to give them enough respect... Do not bet against McNair...

26-October-2003 Money Line Football - Carolina Panthers +148.75
And in the grand finale, this may have been one of my greatest comeback sportsbook victories ever. I have been on the other end of the stick many times (most recently in TB's horrible choke against Indy on Monday night), and haven't had the thrill of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat... From ESPN's recap:

Carolina staged a 58-yard drive, fueled by two pass interference calls and capped by Davis' second touchdown, a 1-yard dive that put Carolina up 20-17 with 3:45 left.

The Saints (3-5) tied it on a 42-yard field goal by John Carney with 36 seconds to go.

New Orleans won the coin toss in overtime and drove to the Carolina 37 before Deuce McAllister fumbled on fourth-and-1. Then Carolina went 50 yards, with Davis breaking free for 33, and Kasay hit his third field goal of the game.

"We stayed with what we do best," Davis said. "That's running
the ball."

I guess this bet wasn't quite as good as I thought it was, but in the end, John Fox knew that Carolina could run over New Orleans.

Summary: 4-2 for the week (I'm counting the Carolina game as 2 wins, since it was a two-unit bet)
22-11 season
I was a bit lucky today with the Carolina game, but I should be whipped for both the Denver and Seattle bets. The Denver bet was made when I thought Beurleein would start, and I think they would have won if he did-- but as soon as you find out that the QB hasn't started a game in 3 years, you better put your money back in your pocket. I should have taken the hit on the juice and got away from this bet. The Seattle game was a mistake because I didn't have enough information about either team... Just like the media, I overrated the Seahawks... I saw them in the Green Bay game for a couple series and was somewhat impressed, failing to notice that they had no running game whatsoever. Never bet on a team that you haven't seen for more than a quarter. The TB and Tenn games I was on the money with, but I should have thought about the Carolina game... the Saints D had all their starters back, rested after being hurt, and the last time the teams played it was pretty close. I almost took St. Louis against Pitt, and would have won that bet, but got undermined by the media's argument that Pitt really is a good team. Replace Danny Kanell with Marc Bulger and I would have had a $225 weekend.

Ah well, I'll take it.

Bonus MNF pick
Miami (-6) over SD, in Arizona
The fires here in SC have moved the game from SD to Arizona, causing havoc in sportsbooks across the land. I actually got Miami at +103, which means people must be betting on SD, who has one of the worst run defenses in the league. Ricky is coming off two bad games, so I think he'll pound the SD backers for 100+ and two TDs, while Seau and the Miami D won't have too much trouble with Tomlinson.



The Drought and The Maniac

Part 1: The Drought
Knowing that I wouldn't be able to make it to the casino for two weeks while my wife's family was visiting from Sweden, I had to make one more trip to Hollywood Park. I was hoping to get there to play a couple satellites for the $500 NL tourney... $50 satellites, and there were no rebuys in the tourney, so that sounded pretty nice to me. Unfortunately, good old LA traffic prevented that... Anyway, I immediately got a seat at the $6.12 table, and I recognized a few faces as good players. One guy who I've seen a few times even had a nice PokerStars jacket, so I figured he must be pretty good, since it would take a long long time to build up the Frequent Player Points to get that jacket. A couple other middle aged guys who were solid players were on my right, and I didn't like the look of this table.

Hand after hand I threw into the muck, I wasn't even getting anything close to playable. After about 4 boring orbits, a pretty asian woman said "$200 bucks and I haven't won a pot yet!" I realized I hadn't won a pot either, and checked the time-- 1 hour with no pot, great. The parade of bad hands marched on, I felt like I was building a tower of muck... anyway, I finally picked up AA, and raised 2 limpers, everyone else folds. Flop is 4 6 7 rainbow, UTG leads out, next guy calls, and I raise-- both call. Now I'm sure he's got the straight draw, but I haven't won a pot for an hour and a half so I figure I might actually be able to will all the 3s and 8s off the table... oops, turn comes an 8, of course, and UTG bets out, and I find my hand reaching for my chips and calling, disobeying direct orders from the cerebral cortex to fold. I even call the river bet, and of course he turns over K5, and I feel like slamming my head against the table. Why did I call???

The bad hands return, and I look at my watch and it's been 2 hours and I haven't won a pot, and I've played about 3 hands not including the blinds. I think this is some sort of record... finally I pick up AK suited on the button, and decide to raise it up after a few limpers come in. Flop doesn't help, and early limper bets out and 3 or 4 people call. The mighty King appears on the turn, and I'm pretty sure that will clinch it for me unless the board pairs on the river... river brings a rag, and I finally rake my first pot. I'm $300 in and now I've got about $70 in front of me. I finally come to my senses and ask for a table change. This table is WAY too tough, there is one calling station here, who has actually accumulated more chips than anyone else, but besides that everyone is solid. On a Friday night, why the hell am I wasting my time with this crew when I can be playing a bunch of drunks throwing their money away?

Part 2: The maniac
The floorman tells me there are two seats available to move to, and I have my choice... I take a quick glance at both tables... the far tables looks like there are more chips there, but I recognize a couple of solid players, and the near table has a lot of unfamiliar faces and just "feels" better, so I take the near table. I sit down and post, and try to get a bead on the action there. On the first hand, a young, pudgy guy with a goatee raises pre-flop, and gets 2 or 3 callers. He reraises on the flop, and bets the rest of the way, called by both players. With an Ace on board, I figure he's got it, but to my surprise he turns over pocket 2's-- the player in early position turns over A3o, and the other player mucks. This looks good-- I am happy about my quick table selection, and I turn on the focus and prepare to win my money back.

My first hand is pocket 9s, and the pudgy guy raises from middle position after everyone folds to him. I call 3 more chips from my big blind, and we've got 3 players in the pot. The flop is A K 3 rainbow, and I figure I'm dead, so I check, pudgy guy bets, and the third player calls. After seeing his pocket 2 play, I am suspicious, and make the overcall with my 9s. I'm not liking this call, but I'm hoping that this guy is a maniac, and trying to buy the pot as he did with the 2s. The turn is a 7, pudge bets, call, and I call, now commited. River is a rag, and we get bet-call again, and now the pot is big enough that I'm pretty much forced to call. I wait to see what pudge turns over-- J3s! I turn over my 9s, and the 3rd player mucks, and I rake a nice pot. I'm not sure if this was a good play or not, since it's tough to overcall the 3rd player (he later told me he had pocket 6s), but it worked. I am really liking this table.

A few hands later a similar hand comes up... I raise in early position with KQo, trying to isolate pudge. It works-- everyone folds to pudge, who calls, and the BB also calls. I'm not happy when the flop is A Q 7, and now I have to decide if one of these two has an ace. BB checks to me, and I take the plunge and bet my second pair. Pudge raises, and BB calls. I want to reraise, but I'm scared of the 3rd player, so I just call, hoping he's got nothing. Turn is a rag, BB checks, I check, and pudge bets. BB calls again, and now I'm not liking my hand, but I'm pretty much committed now... river is another rag and we go bet-call-call... pudge shows Q3s! I flip my KQ, and 3rd player mucks! So my dangerous overcalls with these 2 hands have turned out for the best, and I stack my chips, climbing back to even.

I'm not sure if these beats tilted pudge, but a few hands later, he was operating in full maniac mode. He capped nearly every hand he was in, and of course everyone was anxious to reraise, so the pots were huge. I was rooting for him in every hand, because I knew those chips would be mine the cards fell true to probability... and he did take in a couple of monster pots with runner-runner flushes, and other such nonsense. I was forced to tighten up, but I wasn't getting many hands anyway, so I just sat back and watched the action. Then this hand came about: 5 players in a pot 3 bet by pudge, a middle aged asian guy who had just sat down a couple hands ago puts the cap on. Flop is Ah Kh 8c, and maniac reraises early bettor, and the flop is also capped. The table watches in amazement, and the turn brings Jc. This time everyone checks to pudge, who bets. Asian guy raises, and the other two fold, so we're heads up. Pudge just calls, and I can't put either player on a hand (AK for Asian guy?). The pot now has around $144 in it, and the river brings a 6s. Pudge checks (huh?), Asian guy bets, and pudge reraises. Asian guy beats him into the pot with a reraise, and pudge immediately mucks! He won't pay $6 more to have a shot at the $200 pot??? Amazingly, the Asian guy flips over T8h!!! I'm blown away as pudge looks away disgusted, and I mumble, "That was the best bluff I've ever seen," breaking the stunned silence of the table. The Asian guy echoes Mike Sexton's favorite quote any time a player bluffs the river on WPT "That was the only way I could have won the pot."

The lesson to be learned here, and it's not a new one, is twofold--
(1) if it costs you 2 or 3 bets to have a shot at winning a pot with more that 15 big bets, it's worth it if you think the other player(s) are capable of laying down their hand in a pot that big. Of course, this works best when it's heads up, because you only have to make the single opponent lay down his hand. However, at wild low limit games, I've almost NEVER seen this play work, since most players are smart enough to pay the extra big bet on the river to "make sure" they are beaten.
(2) On the opposite end of the spectrum, you've got to be POSITIVE you're beat if you are going to lay your hand down on the river. This is preached in all of the literature, but in low-limit hold 'em, since there are so many players in, you've got to have top pair or better to win. So one of the toughest decisions to be made is the river laydown. It will cost you a big bet if you're wrong in calling, but more than 10 big bets if you're wrong about folding.

Ok, enough theory... we want to see our hero defeat the maniac, don't we? Well, I did go up against him one more time-- by then he was running out of chips, but still had a medium sized tower in front of him. I'm dealt QTc in the big blind, and 4 players call, and of course the maniac reraises. I'm happy to call, and the 4 others call, and I'm liking my hand now. The flop is 10 8 6, with one club. I bet out, and 2 players call, and maniac raises. I am happy to reraise, hoping to isolate pudge, but we get one more caller. Pudge puts the cap on, and I'm a little nervous, but still liking my hand. My heart actually starts thumping like it did whenever I contested a pot in my first $2-4 game, something I hadn't felt in a while. Ahh, adrenaline. One of the trapped callers calls the cap (why is there always a third player tagging along???) and I'm hoping KT or AT isn't out there. The river is a 3, and no flush or straight scares me, so I bet out. 3rd guy calls, and pudge, true to form, reraises. I just call this time, figuring a raise won't knock out the 3rd player, and I don't have the guts to continue the raise war with maniac. And the river-- a beautiful Queen! Check raise time! Pudge bets, I raise, and 3rd player folds, and pudge actually folds! I show my QT happily, and start stacking chips, to Pudges cry of "That was a lucky river!" I shoot back, "It's not like you haven't sucked out on anyone." Pudge doesn't like this, and stands up and prepares to rip the cards in half. I see a ten as his bottom card, and he isn't strong enough to go through the Kem plastic, so the cards just crumple and he throws them on the table. Phew, T8, and I'm glad I dodged that bullet... anyway, he's got one chip left now, and tells the dealer to lock the seat up. The dealer shows the floorman the crumpled cards, and the floorman says "Time to go buddy." Pudge leaves unhappily, and I am very sad to see him go. But he has brought me back up to $400, +100 in a night that began potless for 2 hours.

Ironically, after the deck is changed, the player who takes pudges seat wins with pocket Aces after an ace hits the flop. Karma?

I spend the next hour missing pudge and losing $90 on a couple missed draws and bad beats. Ah well, I'll take my $10 win over 6 hours-- TJ Cloutier wrote that whenever he climbs out of a big hole, he feels like a winner-- and tonight, I feel like a winner.

PokerCharts gives me a nice little tidbit:
"STREAK: $255.00 W4 - I am on a 4 session winning streak for a total of 255.00 over 6 days."
That $10 win was nice for the stats, I suppose. My poker winnings are now at $1700, so I'm slowly creeping towards the $4K amount I am requiring myself in order to move up to $10-20 (this is the lowest non-raked game at HP... $7 per half hour, compared to a $4 drop!!! for the $6-12 game). I'm still along way from sitting in the top section... looking back at that $700 loss at HP is tough to stomach, but hey, that's variance for you.

Summary: I played ok, but I think I threw away about $100 on 4 or 5 hands where I knew I was beaten, and made horrible overcalls. However, I did make 2 good overcalls against the maniac. I'll give myself a 75% for the night-- of the 10 non-straightforward plays I had to make, I think I played 7 of them correctly. I know that I still have a long way to go, but I feel I'm learning every time I play. The more patterns I can see, the more lessons I will learn.
(1) Bluff reraises on the river can sometimes work in low-limit holdem if the pot is heads up and the players may fold.
(2) I made several bad overcalls. I need to be focused, and before I make an overcall, make sure that the players in the pot are the type to bet with top pair or worse, or determine if they are on a draw. This might be the biggest leak in my play.
(3) Position based starting hands requirements can be tricky at a loose-passive table. I was burned once or twice when my top pair with a decent kicker was beaten by top pair-good kicker (I remember my KTs losing to KQ). But I also took a few pots when my Ace-Middle kicker beat one or two Ace-Low kicker. I think the rule of thumb here is that with A8 or better and no one has raised at a loose passive table, you can assume you have the best kicker. However, when the top pair is a picture card, be careful of being outkicked. So you can carefully play your A9 from early position if you don't fear a pre-flop raise, but be careful with your suited picture cards.

Ok, 2 weeks of no poker while the in-laws are here... I don't know if I can survive!



Hdouble breaks B&M losing streak with $200 win

After 2 straight losing sessions at Hollywood Park, I sat down at the $6.12 table hungry for a win. Perfect timing—I walked right into the big blind…But before I start, you need a little background. This is real California no fold ‘em hold ‘em, even at the $6.12 level. Depending on the table, usually there are 4-8 players seeing the flop, and you’ll often see 5 players going to the river because the pots are so big. These wild games have been killing me—if you get caught chasing draws all night, and none of them hit, you’re in big trouble. Anyway, I was relieved when only 3 players limped in, and figured that I was probably the favorite with Ato in the Big Blind. When an ace hit the flop, I bet out and everyone immediately mucked their hands. What??? They folded??? I must be in the wrong place. All 3 players, and not one of them had an ace! Amazing. I happily stacked the small pile of chips, realizing that the wild players must not come out on Wednesday nights. I play much better in tighter games, since it is much easier to put people on hands. It’s also a lot less frustrating, because your good hands have more than a 30% chance of winning… in the no fold em games, it’s more like video poker—you’re in there to hit a couple big hands, but your top pair hands that are good in normal games are not gonna hold up. Back to the game—so a good start—a sane table and a nice little pot won from the BB.

A note about table image—I play pretty tight (very tight compared to most players there), and I guess I look somewhat intelligent, so if people give any respect to tight player raises, they will usually fold when I raise. However, I was surprised that the entire field folded to my raise on the flop…

A few hands later I pick up 99 in early position. The table is pretty tight so I decide to raise, trying to make the overcards fold. 2 callers. Flop comes JJ8 rainbow, and I reluctantly bet out. Both players muck, and I rake in my second pot. You have to understand that at HP, you expect to run into the nuts—since usually there are 7 or 8 players seeing the flop, the winning hand is usually pretty close to the nuts, so when 2 cards of a rank hit, you usually assume someone’s got the third. When this bet succeeded, I really felt that this table was “sane” and I could have some control over it.

A couple orbits later I pick up JT diamonds in early position, and limp in… 4 or 5 players call and the big blind raises, so I happily call. Flop comes two beautiful diamonds, Ad 4c 7d, so I check, rather than ram and jam, so the preflop raiser can’t reraise and knock people out. All 5 players call, which makes me think my diamonds may be dead… the turn comes 10c, giving me a couple more outs… everybody checks to preflop raiser, who bets again, and all except one player calls. The dealer burns and turns—a 10 on the river! I walked into trips, and I bet out to the groans of the other players. Unless someone’s got AT I’m good, and I get 2 callers who grumble when they see my hand. A guy across the table happily shows me his 98 of diamonds and says he is glad the flush didn’t hit. I guess I’m lucky today…

Meanwhile a horrible loose aggressive player sits down at the table—I have played with this guy a few times recently, and he seems to think we are friends… He’s kind of a swarthy version of Kermit the frog, with a pretty hard accent… not sure where he’s from. Anyway, this guy constantly berates the dealers, and I usually can’t help laughing at his under-his-breath remarks about the dealer. But he’s across the table this time so I can’t hear anything… anyway, we’ve got a young dealer who looks pretty smart, and is doing a good job… I’m trying to watch the Marlins blow the game when I hear the following exchange:
Dealer: “Excuse me sir, what are you doing with your hand?”
Kermit: “whhhat? Nothing?”
Dealer: “Oh, I could have sworn you were giving me the finger.”
Kermit: “whhatt? Why would I do that? What did you do to me that I give you finger?”
Dealer: (silence)
I threw the dealer a $2 chip after I stopped laughing, and he gave a little wry smile.

Well this journal entry is getting long and I should probably start work, so I’ll have to give a quick summary of the other hands I can remember:

--K6s, 2 spades and 6c on flop, bet out, 2 others call, river spade, beat guy with 2 pair

--K7c in BB, king flops, I lead out (3 players) and player to left raises... I reraise, he folds, lady calls me to river with QQ. This was probably my best play of the night… I figured my tight table image would at least cause the guy to thing about folding to my reraise (I put him on a King), and he did fold. After I showed my K7, he said “Nice reraise, I had K4”. I was psyched that I actually made a good (somewhat non-straightforward) play

And the last hand of the night:
22 SB, call, 6 players in, flop Ah 2h 5s, I bet flop, everyone folds but BB calls, turn J, river 5h, one caller all the way, I rake in a big pot.

Now for the bad:
--K8o in the big blind, one limper, flop comes A88… guy bets, I call, waiting to checkraise on the turn. He bets the turn all in for 5 chips… I call, river comes K, I turn over and say “sorry man,” he turns over A8! Wow! He says “sorry for what? Haha!”
--I also overplayed 77 and 88. I need to be more conservative with these hands. One time flop came 9 high, I lead out from early position, two callers… I lead out again on the turn (mistake) when a 10 comes, and both call. I check the river, and fold to some guys bet, who had two pair, and the other guy had J9 or something. The other hand was nearly identical. So I threw away $50 or so on these 2 hands…

Summary: All in all a pretty good performance. I caught some good cards, and for the first time, I rammed and jammed when I should with draws, and caught 2 of them. I overplayed 3 or 4 hands, but besides that I don’t think I made any mistakes.

My wife’s family is coming in from Sweden for the next 2 weeks, so I probably won’t be playing any poker in that time. But we’ll see…


PosEv at the Sportsbook: the other gamble

Another, perhaps more profitable, form of gambling that I like to participate in is sports betting. I believe that with a small amount of research, a bettor can get a small edge on certain games. Being an ex-football player, my best sport is of course football, although I do ok at basketball as well. I think that the handicappers are often too stat-based-- most of the games I bet on are decided by a touchdown or more, so a 6 point spread isn't as big a deal as the handicappers make it out to be. I like to fade the weak teams, especially teams with weak QBs. Kordell Stewart has won me a fair bit of money this year.

So how have I done this year? Well, I started out great-- 12-2 in September! My picks were made after reading game summaries and a few good NFL columns, but with limited watching of the games. I don't have cable, so I usually catch one or two games on the network, but that's it... I experimented with creating a neural network to predict nfl game results, and even trained a small version, but I figured that the handicappers are already doing this... if you're going to beat the house, it's not going to be by out-programming them, it's going to be by finding weaknesses in their algorithms.

Anyway, of course my luck had to settle down, and I'm 6-7 in October (losing 4 games in the final minute), for a total of 18-9. I think the linemakers have been doing better, and there are fewer chances to get an edge. However, I think they have made several mistakes for this weekend. Here are my picks, in order of confidence:

Carolina over New Orleans, Money line (+120)
I'm amazed by this line. Carolina coming off a bad week against a tough Tenn. team, and NO off a blowout of the lowly Bears, and the linemakers make the 3-4 home Saints a favorite over the 5-1 Panthers. Sure Carolina has no passing game. Sure their QB is Jake Delhomme (who I actually think looks decent so far). Sure Stephen Davis was held to 20 yards on 11 carries by Tennessee. BUT THESE ARE THE SAINTS! Their 3 wins are against Chicago, Atlanta, and Houston! The best explanation of the line is that it was 19-13 in Carolina, and HeHateMe had a 100 yard kickoff there. But I just think the Panthers are so much better than NO. They will pound the ball and get their field goals and win easy.

Seattle over Cincinatti, Seattle -1.5
Yeah I know, Marvin Lewis has the Bengals believing in themselves and Seattle is overrated. Fine, but Seattle is a classic team that beats up on average/bad teams and does not do well against good teams. The Seattle offense will eat up the weak Cinci secondary. Kitna vs. Hasselbeck-- showtime!

Unfortunately, I also took the money line on Denver at Baltimore. I say unfortunately because it was announced today that Steve Beurleine is OUT FOR THE SEASON with a dislocated pinkie on his throwing hand. Come on Steve, I have dislocated both pinkies about 5 times, and this is an injury you can play with. Sigh. Still, I think Denver has a good chance if they can stop the Baltimore run, and Jamal has an injured shoulder... but then again, Danny Kanell is now the starter, going up against the beast Ray Lewis and his boys... I think I'm gonna puke...

**new** 2 picks added
After reading John Clayton's first and ten(the best pregame column out there), I've added two more picks.

Tampa Bay over Dallas, TB -6.5
I've lost on Tampa twice in the past 2 weeks, one game being the dreaded Indy Monday night comeback... however, Dallas runs a high school offense-- Parcells had the Dallas OC dumb it down so that Quincy Carter only has to go down the progression rather than really read the defense. I'm banking on Monte Kiffin to eat this high school offense alive... TB will disguise their coverages, and step in front of a couple passes for INTs. If the TB defense can get 2 turnovers, and the offense doesn't turn the ball over, I think TB wins by at least a TD.

Tennessee over Jacksonville, Tennessee -3.5
McNair at home vs. Leftwich on the the road... hmmm... well, I haven't seen too much of Leftwich but I am a big fan of the Titan defense. I think they will just be too much for the rookie to handle, especially at home coming off a big win last week. Fisher always prepares Tennessee well, and this game will be no exception.

YIKES! Well monetarily this makes the biggest betting weekend ever: $440 in play on 5 games. It would be quite nice to go 5-0...


Climbing the hand rankings

No poker yesterday-- I watched the Yankees beat the Marlins in the Series to go up 2 games to 1. I think Mariano Rivera brings more focus to the mound than anyone I can remember. I want to be that focused at the poker tables...

Reread Mummert's excellent Simulation study about starting hands yesterday. Some interesting results from the simulation:
1. AKo is one of the hands that is most sensitive to the number of players contesting the pot. So we should always raise with AKo unless we are sure that our raise won't knock 1 single player out.
2. The "big suiteds" play just as well in multiway pots as non-multiway pots.
3. Both JJ and TT play BETTER in multiway pots. This one really surprised me.
4. KQs was the 10th ranked starting hand according to the study (I think I have been overplaying this hand)
5. ATs was the 11th ranked starting hand
6. KTs was the 16th ranked starting hand
7. Medium suited connectors win much less often than traditional thinking suggests

I think the way the simulation was carried out gives somewhat strange results, because the players in the sim either went to the showdown, or did not go to the showdown-- folding was an option only before the flop. However, it does show the performance of the starting hands against random hands, which allows us to get some sort of line on their strength.

Another limitation of this study is that betting is not simulated. Think about TT. Sure it wins more than its share of multiway pots, but how much money are you going to win if the highest card on the flop is a 9?

Anyway, I'm still on the fence on the debate about not raising with JJ or QQ in very loose no-fold em games. Clearly you aren't going discourage people from calling with a raise, but you know that you've got the best hand pre-flop... it seems like the best strategy is to keep betting while you've got the best hand, then be a good enough player to release the hand once you feel you are beaten. I guess there must be some threshold point where you become a big underdog with your JJ and there are 6 limpers in the pot. I would like to see some stats/odds on this, or maybe I should work them out myself... ah well, back to work-- the boring way to build the bankroll...



Why I Play Poker

So why dedicate precious hours of life hunched over a card table in complete concentration? I guess it's because the poker table is one of the few places where concentration and knowledge is immediately rewarded, while mistakes are immediately punished. After giving up football, I needed an arena to compete in, something that required complete concentration to succeed in. There are very few places in life that if you're not at your best, you suffer... if I come to work tired or unfocused, I can just work harder the next day, and no one will notice. If my workout is not as intense as I'd like it to be, I'm a little frustrated, but there isn't much noticeable difference in who I am. But at the poker table, mistakes cost you, and cost you immediately. If you're not focused, you will lose. If you don't sit down with your best stuff, you are most likely in trouble.

So I guess poker is something that makes me push myself to my limits of concentration and study. There's a lot of incentive, because unlike work, where a job perfectly done most likely does not result in any financial gain, a good check raise results in an immediate gain in profit. There are no politics in poker-- no annoying boss, no coworkers who aren't doing their job. Poker is purely an individual pursuit, where the player's results are directly proportional to his knowledge and skill.

Oh yeah, and of course there is some luck involved.

In a lot of ways, poker is like football, and I suppose like life also. I played Tight End on the football field, which meant I was dependent on the quarterback to get me the ball. In poker, you're dependent on the dealer to give you some cards to play with. The temptation, if you believe that you're knowledge and skill is greater than your opponents, is to believe that you can beat them with ANY two cards. This is where patience and an understanding of probability theory is extremely useful. On the football field, I learned to keep running my routes as best I could, and keep beating my man, no matter if the quarterback threw to me or not. Eventually, he would hit me, usually for a big play that would have a big effect on the outcome of the game. At the poker table, I'm learning that you wait for an edge to appear, and then you push that edge as hard as you can. I think this is true in life as well-- although in the long run, success comes down to knowledge and skill, there is a lot of luck involved. At the poker table, unlike in life, it's very difficult to create your own opportunities, so you have to exercise your patience until an opportunity arises. In life, you can sometimes create an opportunity by pushing your skills, but the ability to recognize a good opportunity is a talent. In poker, winners wait patiently until a solid opportunity arises, and then make the most out of that small advantage.



First journal session: Hdouble comes back to book small win

Well, it weren't pretty, but I managed to come back after getting my butt kicked on a super tough $5.10 table to book a huge win of $8 in a short session of 1 hour (2 tables simultaneously, so 2 hours total). All stats for this journal brought to you by pokertracker-- if you don't have this stat tracker, spend the $40 and get it-- it's by far the best software tool out there (perhaps challenged by Wilson's Turbo Texas Hold 'Em, but that's for another log). Here are the highlights:

The good: caught some cards at this table in my short stay of 14 hands
Table 3   13 minutes   +93
$34 came from pocket kings, which I 3 bet a good player's raise pre-flop, and no overcards came.
$33 came from ATo... after a Ten came on the flop, the hand held up as a guy with K7 tried to bluff me off the hand.
$29 came as AK suited held up on the river with high card ace in a heads up match with QJ

The OK: 6.5 BB in my hour, I guess that's pretty good... just solid poker here
Table2   55 minutes   +60
$39 as ATo held up after an ace flopped
$20 from a lucky river queen which gave me trip queens after an AK hit the flop. The loser had KJ, and let me see the river for free.
$25 after flopping 2 pair with AJ and everyone folds on the turn
$47 after flopping 2 pair with Q9s heads up... loser had QJ
The important thing was that I had no big losses-- biggest loss was $20 after my A9 was beaten heads up... no help from the board

The Bad: tough, tough table and a few mistakes made for a whoopin
Table 1   36 minutes   -145
(-$25) after trying to steal with JTs and trying to hit the gutshot after the flop :(
(-$35) after flopping 2 pair with Q9 in a preflop steal raise, and the winner flopped the straight with KJ
(-$20) after Q8 in the BB goes down to Q9s UTG when 2 queens flop. I was actually lucky here as my check-raise on the turn failed. An ace on the board too.
My only real win ($23)at this table was on the first hand, when I flopped a Queen high flush in the BB, although everyone folded on the turn.

Looking at the above, I guess the 2nd two losing hands I played correctly, just got extremely bad luck... The first hand was just horrible. I should have ran away from this table after a few orbits after a few late position preflop raises stole the blinds...

Summary: A decent session, nothing to be ashamed of. My game is still tightening up, and I am still developing my ability to "feel" an opponent's hand based on bets and raises. I think my biggest weakness is extracting the maximum number of bets in shorthanded play with a good, but not great hand. This is a product of the wild games at Hollywood Park-- if you slowplay there, you are dead, and it's carrying over to my online play. However, "letting people catch up" is extremely dangerous, and requires an excellent read on your opponent(s) in order to make it profitably, so I'll keep playing straightforwardly for a while.

I'll take the $8 and 100 more hands toward the Empire $100 bonus...


TRIP REPORT: VEGAS, June 19-21 2003

This was the first trip report I ever wrote, and represents the real turning point for me in terms of switching over from blackjack to poker. I'd only been playing poker for a few weeks before the trip, but it really sucked me in on this trip. The report is old, but I thought it sort of acts as an intro to the journal.

Although there is a fair bit of poker content in the report, I wrote it to document the trip rather than to document the poker playing. I spent about half my time counting cards, and the other half playing poker, so if you just want to read the poker stuff, feel free to skip over the blackjack.


TRIP REPORT: VEGAS, June 19-21 2003

Friday After a 2 month delay, my birthday Vegas trip is finally underway, as M ditches work early (1:00 pm) and I take off to meet him at 2--how convenient when the boss's baby keeps him up all night! Looks like luck is on our side before we even hit the road... until we hit a horrible patch of traffic on the 15, and crawl through the desert, finally greeted by the Luxor moonbeam at 8:45 pm. Like an idiot, I have lifted legs the day before the trip, so I nearly collapse when my feet hit the pavement. We've decided to see if we can find a late-night poker tournament somewhere on the strip, since we figure that the BJ tables will be full prime-time Friday night.

After reading about a couple small Saturday tourneys at the Luxor and Mandalay Bay, we wander through Mandalay Bay as our eyes wander through fake breasts towards the poker room. We get there and are told that there are no weekend MB poker tourneys, although they have a daily weekday tournament, which we already missed. Strike 1. Undiscouraged, we hit the walkway to the Luxor, where I know there is a Saturday morning tourney. The guy at the poker desk tells us that there are tournaments at 10 and 12 the next morning, with only a $20 buy in, but if we want to play we had best get there early. M and I are unsure if this is good or bad news... even the noon tournament would require getting up at around 9 if we wanted to eat breakfast and make it from our downtown Hotel (Fitzgerald's). We discuss the odds of waking up this early on our way to Excalibur, where we have heard that there is a nice friendly low-limit poker room. On the tram ride over, some girl's ass inadvertently swallows M's hand, and we take this as a sign of good luck.

We enter the small Excalibur poker room and ask what tables are available--the business-like manager tells us that it's a 2-6 game, where players can raise $6 at any time, with a limit of 4 raises. I've never heard of this betting structure, and as I'm trying to figure out how this would change the game, I catch sight of the "money wheel," a wheel of fortune type thing near the back corner of the room. I ask the manager what we need to do to spin the money wheel: Manager: "Either pocket aces beaten, or 4 of a kind or better." I try to figure the probabilities, and figure that neither of us will hit it in the 2 hours or so we will play, but as people are spinning the thing every 5 minutes or so, optimism rears its pretty face and I wonder if M is also mumbling "mmmmonnnney wheeellllll" like Homer Simpson.

After only a couple minutes I get a seat, as M graciously gives me first shot at the table. Or maybe not graciously. I sit down at the friendliest table I have ever seen (we ain't in Inglewood, Toto--no angry players like at my usual joint, Hollywood Park). The dealer is even laughing. I get lectured on the rules by the friendly old dealer ("Have you ever played here before son?), and a hefty dude with a goatee, dark shades, and an upper lip full of dip is to my left. The hefty dude starts off immediately, pulling some sort of cool, talkative Chris Farley act, and I figure that this table is guaranteed money.

I put my $140 buy-in on the table and look at my first cards to find J-10 offsuit in late position, and even though I have no clue what is going on at this table, I figure the players as a bunch of tourist calling stations. I throw in my 2 chips for a call, hoping not to see any raises. But the lady on the blinds raises it 6 to make it 8, and 2 players call. I throw in my 6 to call, still confused by the betting structure. Great start--8 chips to play J-10 offsuit. The flop comes 9c-Qc-Qh and one lady bets 6, I call with my open straight, and the raiser calls. I figure someone has the queen, and I'm happy that I've got a shot at the pot, which is now up over $50. The turn is the 7 of hearts... first lady bets, second lady raises to make it 12, and I am ordering a drink instead of calculating pot odds, so I throw in my 12, making the pot huge at $76. The river comes Kh, and I should be happy to rake in the huge pot for my straight, but something doesn't feel right. The first lady bets, and I call, and button reraises again. Pot is huge so I have to call, but warning bells are going off... I am the first to show, and the early bettor turns over... Ah 9h??? Pair of 9s? Ahh, I missed the flush! And to rub it in, the raiser turns over Q-9 for the full house. I am amazed at the horribility of this play, and I look at my previously full rack of chips--now half empty. First hand in Vegas, and I'm down $36.

Hefty dude with the shades keeps talkin it up, and we learn he is a construction worker from Minnesota. By this time, M has moved to my table, and judging from the height of his stack he is doing better than me... 3rd to act, M raises it 6 to Minnesota Fats, who reraises to 12. I ponder my A-7 offsuit, and decide to throw it away to let M battle it out with Minnesota. Everyone else folds, M calls and the flop comes K-A-A. I am hoping M has A-K, but i can never put him on a hand anyway, so I bail and try to figure out what Minnesota's got. Fats thinks for a while, and suprisingly comes out with, "That's a great raise... great raise" and mucks his hand. Matt turns over K-10 and takes the pot, and the woman to Fats' left asks what he had. "I had an Ace, what do you think I had? That was a great bet, I can't call that!" I tell Fats I would have called, and the woman says, "Why didn't you make a great call then?" I tell them I threw away my Ace pre-flop, and knowing Fats style, I tell him that I don't think he had the Ace. Fats doesn't like this, and gets quiet, and I decide to move next to M, where a seat has just opened up, although I was barely able to leave the money seat the the left of Minnesota. Fats is quiet for the remainder of the night, and soon leaves, while M and I sadly watch him go. I am sure he didn't have an Ace.

The next two hours prove relatively uneventful... I lose big with A-K when a King flops and a rock who has played about 5 hands in the 2 hours we've been there calls me down to the river, and turns over his pocket Aces. As I ponder my bad play, the rock informs M that he's in the worst pain of his life due to a recent hernia operation. I feel better and win a couple small pots, while M goes heads up a couple times against a young Asian kid whose girlfriend is sitting behind him silently. He wins the first battle, when 3 Kings flop and he calls the kid's reraises with his pocket Queens, and the kid turns over a raggedy 7-3 at the showdown. The kid's bluff proves profitable later on when M refuses to lay down his K-J on the A-Q-7 flop, and the kid shows down A-K.

We leave at 12:40, with M up 20 after 3 hours, and me down 100, mostly on the 2 big hands I lost early. Neither of us spin the wheel, but the look in M's eye tells me we will be back... the next hour sees us through the residential neighborhoods of downtown Vegas when we take a wrong turn coming off the exit ramp. After driving past the "Default Senior Center," we stumble upon downtown and arrive at the Fitzgerald at 1:40 AM.

Check in: we discover that we've been given 1 king size bed, and of course it's too late to switch rooms. I feel like the main character in Lolita, as the clerk tells us he can give us a cot for free, and I prepare to fight for another bed for M. Thankfully, the manager is there and comps us a free trip to the buffet, which is good enough for M, who will happily take the cot and the free food. We won't be sleeping much anyway.

After dropping our bags off (the room smelled strangely of wintergreen Skoal), we grab a late dinner at Shamrock's, Fitzgerald's 24-hour restaurant. The fries taste like cardboard, and we discuss the possibility of getting up early enough to play. An 8:45 wake up is not appealing, and we decide to sleep late and try to get in the 7 pm tourney at the Orleans, since we figure to own the blackjack tables at this hour. M wakes himself up and we hit the Fitz double deck tables, which offer pretty good penetration (.6) and great rules. We get a table to ourselves, and the counting begins.

We're back and forth with $5 and $10 bets for a while as I wait for a good count. M looks like the game has woken him up, but sadly for me, there is no longer much adrenaline contributed by Blackjack. However, I figure that once the $50 bets come out, things should be more fun. The dealer, a middle-aged Asian guy, shuffles, and M tries to ease his boredom, striking up a conversation. The dealer, Chung, says he plays craps, and seems genuinely friendly. The momentum swings from M and I against the table to include Chung, who nows seems to be honestly rooting for us. So it's us 3 against the house, but the positive counts are few and far between. The count hovers around zero as the night slowly rolls on, despite Chung's best attempts to break the house. M and I hover around zero, and Chung looks about as bored as I am... in my favorite dealer moment of the trip, I get a 15 against a face card with a $25 bet out. I ask Chung for a 6, and suprisingly, he turns over a 6, leans forward and nearly punches me in the face as he celebrates the win with a fist pump. Finally after 3 hours of uneventful play, M is down 100 and I'm up 45, and we call it a night. I ask M about his "rogue betting" tactics, as he threw out a few medium sized bets against negative counts. He mumbles an answer, which I interpret to be something about the game being boring, which I definitely agree with. Alas, my love affair with Blackjack seems to be over.

In perhaps the most bizarre moment of the trip, I hop in bed and shut off the lights, and say good night to M who is reading peacefully in his cot. The book has no cover, but looks pretty hefty. I close my eyes for 5 minutes and suddenly remember something M said on the ride to Vegas: H: "Ahhh, what are you reading?" M: (mumbles) H: "IS THAT HARRY POTTER???" M: (grinning) H: "YOU'RE READING HARRY POTTER IN VEGAS!" M: (wider grin) H: "That's gotta bring bad luck." M: "No way--it's magic!"

Saturday We get up at 11:30 after 6 hours of sleep, and amazingly we both feel very awake. We missed the tourney, but we take comfort in the fact that we can play in the Orleans tourney at 7, when the BJ tables will be packed anyway. So we have optimized our gambling as far as beating the crowds. After using our comp for the buffet (of course we missed breakfast by an hour--who the hell makes it up for breakfast by 10:30 in Vegas???), and I force down some spaghetti and meatballs to provide fuel for the day.

Time to bomb some single and double deck tables downtown--the plan is to hit each one for an hour, and move on to the next one. We start at the famous Horseshoe, planning to check out the poker room where the World Series is held. But we do a cartoon character stop at an empty single deck table, and in an hour I drop 90 while M wins 15. I lose a couple big hands with true counts over 5, ignoring the young pit boss who is more concerned with the player betting 4 greens in seat 1. Unfortunately 2 players joined us, so most of the good hands were eaten up and each of us only got to see 2 hands before a shuffle. The tiny poker room is disappointing, although the aura of the World Series is faintly present. But present enough for M and I to agree that we will try to make it for next May's tourney.

The next hour takes us through a couple Downtown joints (Golden Nugget and Golden Gate) for more uneventful BJ. M wins 20 more over the course of a couple hours, and I drop 20. We just can't seem to get that high positive count that makes the big money, and the dealers are hitting 5 card 21s and some ridiculous draws. M deflects the little heat we might get from the pit bosses, as he cracks enough jokes to make the dealer laugh and the pit bosses back off. Perfect conditions, just no results.

We finally arrive at Lady Luck, which according to the BJ journals, offers the most profitable game in town with their single deck game. But we opt for a double deck game with one player after not finding any single deck games going on, and the penetration is excellent--once again, great conditions. The trend of slow games continues, although we do see a few high positive counts... the other player at the table busts out, and we welcome the new dealer--a short little guy of unknown ethnicity with a name tag labeled "VALE".

Vale deals quickly, stone-faced as M and I hope to get on a run with this guy. I ask him where he's from, but his lizard eyes only look at me and wait for me to hit or stay. I ask again, but he continues to deal, ignoring me. H: "I guess Vale's not in the mood." M: "He's not much of a talker, I guess." H: "That's fine with me!"

The uneventful blackjack goes on, and the great conditions continue, but the counts hover around zero for what seems like forever. I try to occupy two chairs to fend off would-be players, but eventually an old Asian lady stops, stands behinds the seat and gets ready to sit down. M and I groan, hoping that the lady will change her mind, and Vale draws a 5 to his 16 to hit 21. She makes some exclamation at seeing the 21, and quickly runs in the other direction. Vale eyes her and looks at us, with what almost looks like a hint of a smile. M: "I guess she didn't like the dealer!" The smile slowly creeps across the lizard face, and the floodgates are open. Vale waves her away with his 3-card 21, and says "Good riddance!" I smile at M, who has finally cracked the Vale after over an hour of playing in complete silence. The silent dealer turns into a stand up comedy act, faking blackjacks after checking the hole card, and just doing strange things with the cards.

M's luck with the dealer does not continue on to the cards, where he drops 120 in our 3-hour stint. I am up 50 after hitting and missing a few big bets. We were hoping to hit the pride of the downtown meal, the Horseshoe steak and eggs for a pre-tournament (poker at the Orleans) dinner, but we just can't leave Vale. Finally at 5:30 we drag ourselves away from the table and grab a quick bite at McDonald's before heading out. M wolfs down a burger ordered "H-style" (he's eating healthy this weekend!) and we wade through the humid desert air to the first cab to the Orleans. We decide on the cab, figuring it will be 20 bucks each way, but I will be allowed to drink and won't have to fight traffic, etc. And our cab drivers sure made it worthwhile...

We hop in the cab and I start coaching M: H: "Remember that people play much tighter in the tourney. Even K-J is a weak hand once the tourney tightens up." The cabbie, a middle-aged black dude pipes in, Cabbie: "Sounds like y'all are poker players!" M: "Yep, we're going to play in the tournament at the Orleans." Cabbie: "Yeah, they gotta lotta em there." H: "Do you play?" Cabbie: "Yeah..." H: "Which game? Stud?" Cabbie: "Yeah, I used to play some, but not much anymore." H: "How long you been in Vegas?" Cabbie: "17 years... and it's the best place to be if you're lookin for women" H: "Yeah, my buddy and I were just noticing that when we got here..." Cabbie: "Fuck yeah! Finest bitches in the world be up in here, that's where all the suckers are at!" H: "Yeah, I guess a pretty girl can make a lot of money here..." Cabbie: "I know this one bitch, she say some sucker throwin her black chip every 20 minutes! I say bitch, why the fuck you hangin with me, you better go stand next to that sucker till his motherfuckin feet fall off! Shit, I'd stand there forever if he was givin me black chips! And it ain't like the old rich guys ain't getting their money's worth... even if they ain't getting pussy, they still get to walk around with a fine young thing on their arm. Money for the spendin! Like Tina said, what THE FUCK has love got to do with it???"

The man was a true vulgarian, and M and I thoroughly enjoyed the cynical diatribe on Vegas pussy. Unfortunately the cab ride was nearly 30 bucks with the tip, but hey, what the fuck has love got to do with it. We take our second-hand emotion into the Orleans, a big off-strip casino that supposedly hosts small buy-in poker tournaments. As we wander around looking for the poker room, the sheer size of the Orleans amazes me. The super high-ceilings and sprawling game room is overwhelming for an off-strip casino, and we finally are told that the poker room is in the back past the sportsbook. As we stride trhough the sportsbook, bells go off in M's head and he stops dead in his tracks... "The Fight!" slips out from his mouth, and we turn to walk to the board to check on the odds on the Lennox Lewis-Vitaly Klitschko fight, which M remembers since the Staples billboard has been flashing it at us for weeks now. Klitschko is a huge Russian fighter who has looked promising so far, although he hasn't fought anyone decent yet. It's his first real fight, but he's big and seems to be a pretty good technical fighter, which contrasts to Lewis' knockout style. M argues that the champ has grown lax, and the young Russian really has nothing to lose. I agree, and so do the odds, which show Klitschko at a 3.4 to 1 underdog for a straight up win. There is also a number-of-rounds bet which is 1.1 to 1 for over 7.5 rounds and .9 to 1 for under 7.5. I think that if the Russian wins, it will be on technical skill and probably go to the decision, so it looks like the win and the over on rounds is an excellent parlay. A $20 win would win $60 for the straight up, and then double that for the parlay. M and I each opt for a $20 White Russian parlay, but are denied as the Orleans doesn't accept fight parlays. So we take the straight up win, which will give us $136 if the underdog wins. I feel pretty good about this, and thank M and the Staples billboard for a good shot at $136.

Ok, we're now off to the poker room, which is a small open room near the back of the casino. I tell the lady at the desk we are signed up for the 7 o'clock tourney, and she tells me to go to the desk. A sign says something about a 7-card stud tournament, and I get a bad feeling in my stomach... sure enough, I ask the desk man if the tourney is a Hold ‘Em or stud tournament, and he exclaims "Stud!" and I want to pull an Ed Norton in fight club and punch myself in the face. I tell M, who wants to pull a Brad Pitt and punch me in the face, and we dejectedly turn to discuss our options. What a choke, I didn't even ask what kind of tournament it was, even though all I had to go on was some lady at the Luxor's guess that the tourney was Hold ‘Em. A $30 cab fare for nothing, and what's worse is we have to come back here to collect if Klitschko wins.

We decide that we have to hit a poker room somewhere, and the natural choice is to return to the soft games of Excalibur and try one last time to get a spin on the money wheel. M gets the first seat this time, and I join him a few minutes later, saying hi to the rock from last night who had the hernia operation. There are a few young, clueless looking players at the table, and the game looks pretty soft to me. The first hour is relatively uneventful, and I win a couple small pots to pull in $60, while M loses a couple to go down 35. The money wheel sits quietly in the corner, getting spun occasionally by some lucky tourists.

I'm dealt pocket 8's in early position, and I pre-flop raise it the max to $8 to try to drive some players out of the pot. A couple players fold, and a young redhead girl on the button calls, along with one other player. She has been playing tight, so I think my pocket 8's are in trouble, but maybe she's got A-K. The flop comes rainbow 8-J-4, and I figure the pot is mine, hoping that somebody with A-J will call me down to the river. I want to slow play it, but I figure I should just bet, figuring that redhead won't fold anyway. I bet out 6, and the 2 players fold to the redhead, who reraises me 6, to my delight and surprise. I put her on A-J, and everyone else folds, leaving us heads-up. I reraise it to 18, and she calls, and I can't be happier. The turn comes 6, which I figure can't hurt me, so I bet. Redhead immediately raises, and I start to get a little worried. Could she have pocket Jacks? I call her, and think about the odds of two sets on the same hand. But the dealer turns over a beautiful 8 on the river, and I actually feel a bit bad since I think she had me beat before, and I'm about to take all her chips. I bet and am called, and turn over my 8s, as the table "ooohhhs" and she mucks her cards angrily. Ah well... I rake in the big pot and realize that IT'S TIME TO SPIN THE WHEEL! The $60 she just contributed to me is probably a lot more than I'll get from the wheel, but hey, IT'S THE MONEY WHEEL!

I stand up to spin and ask the manager if the wheel has to go around twice in order for the spin to count. "Yeah but it spins pretty easily, so don't worrry about that." I look at the wheel, which is full of $20 and $30 markings, but I want to hit the "Triple" mark, which gives you another spin at triple the value. I try to get 2 full rotations to the triple, and give it a soft spin at what I figure will be the only time I ever spin a money wheel. Click, click, click goes the clacker, and I retreat towards my seat with an eye on the wheel. The triple goes past 2, 3 times and the $20 approaches the pin. The pin goes over the $20s, and ends up anticlimactically at the $30. I groan, and collect my $30 chips from the floorman before sitting back down. Ah well, at least I got to spin!

M asks the manager if he can put the fight on the big screen, which is currently tuned to a baseball game. He fiddles with the remote a while, and then we are treated to a closeup on the mug of the big Russian, who appears ready to fight. Lewis comes in, looking a little bit pudgy, but more or less in shape. I'm feeling pretty good about this bet as the fight starts, and the Russian dances with Lennox awhile before landing a couple of straight right hands. Lennox looks a little lazy, and although the Russian fights stiffly, our bet is looking pretty good after the first round. The HBO announcers give the first round to Klitschko, as M and I try to catch the action between folds.

The fight goes on and the Russian is outboxing Lewis, who looks tired and out of shape after 3 rounds. The judges give Klitschko the first 3 rounds, but he is lunging too much and looks like he will be caught by a Lewis bomb if he keeps it up. In the 4rth, Lewis catches him with an overhand right that spurts blood from the Russian's eye, but it looks like a glancing blow. The big brit then tackles Klitschko, and the 2 go to the mat together. The round ends, and HBO gives us a close up on the Russian's cut right eye, where the skin has been split and looks like a fresh cut of salmon. M and I groan, and I tell the table that the docs will soon stop it with a gash like that. But the Russian comes out strong in the 5th, and lands a couple hard shots... Lennox gets in a couple also, but at the end of the 5th the judges have Klitschko winning 4 rounds, and Lennox 1. Lennox bombs away in the 6th, landing a couple big shots that stagger the Russian, but both fighters appear strong. As they come out to start the 7th, the referee steps in and a crowd fills the ring. Klitschko looks angry, and even gets in Lewis' face as the two talk trash in the center of the ring. Looks like they stopped it. TKO Lewis if the docs have forced Klitschko to stop, and Lennox raises his arm in victory. But wait--after some commotion, a bloody face Klitschko stands on the ropes, raising his arm to the crowd in victory. M and I get excited, thinking that a stoppage may go to the scorecards, and the Russian may have pulled it out! After more commotion, Lewis again raises his arm, and we wait for a ruling. With the sound off, we have no idea, but eventually a graphic announces that Lewis has won by TKO. Ah well... a good bet, which I would make again... a $40 gash, which M and I will have to win back on the BJ table.

After 3 hours at the Excalibur, the BJ tables are calling, and after M takes a big pot down with 5s full of kings, I cash out up 100 (miserable after hitting that 4 of a kind), and M down 16. Both of us were doing fine until a kid from Seattle sat down and not only was dealt pocket aces 5 times, but won with them all 5 times. He demolished the table, but M and I managed to avoid most of his Aces, except when I was whooped with my pair of queens after he put a straddle (a blind raise without looking at his cards) on the table. Anyway, I'm back even in poker after last night, and we head towards the front to catch a cab downtown. Feeling good (and at this point heavily buzzed after 3 hours of continuous cocktails), we look for the cab line outside, but can't seem to find the entrance. Finally we see the "taxi line" sign right in front of the outside of the hotel, and I hop in line, fast-walking to get in front of the guy with the suitcase and his wife. I thought my fast-walk was a fair deal, almost a cut, but we had position, so no big deal. We grab a cab after a short wait, and we're headed downtown...

M: "Did you hear that guy?" H: "No... what?" M: "He said--did they just cut us?" H: "Yeah we just beat them to the line." M: (smiling) "Ahhh, no, there was a MASSIVE line going into the hotel." H: (laughing) "What? No way!" M: "Yup, it was stretching wwwwwaaaaay into the hotel..." H: "That's hilarious!" M: "Yeah, I wanted to see if the guy said something. He didn't so I didn't move." H: "That's great."

We were then in for the ride of the trip, greeted by a jolly foreign driver by a string of "yo what's up homies!" and other technical slang terminology. We asked where he was from and he told us Russia, so we mocked Klitschko for a couple minutes before moving on to more important topics... M: "Do you gamble?" Cabbie: "No, I used to play poker, but I got kicked out of MGM." M: "For what?" Cabbie: "Counting cards n shit." H: (pause) "In poker?" Cabbie: (pause) "...Poker, 21, everything" H: (smelling a rat) "What count system do you use?" Cabbie: "What do you mean?" H: "For counting... you know, Hi-Lo, Halves..." Cabbie: "There are different systems? I just use the one my dad taught me!"

We stepped out of the cab baffled and happy that the cabbie would lie about counting cards, which apparently was a cool thing to do. Yeah, we're cool!


But alas, these 9 pages of trip report must end here. You will not hear of the losing battle that our young narrator and his faithful friend waged that night. The gods of chance were not kind to our heroes that night, and left them beaten mentally and spiritually. You will not hear of how far below the normal curve their results fell. Our narrator doesn't have the energy to tell you how he placed 3rd in a Sunday Hold 'Em tournament at the Luxor (yes, our heroes finally made it to a tournament), winning $75 on his $20 buy-in. You will not be given details of the 7 hour ride home, where our narrator played 3 hours of single deck blackjack against his dealing friend, and he was down nearly $2000 fictional dollars. You also can't be sure that he won all this back and more at card roulette, Dostoevsky style. You won't hear of the invention of a new casino game, "Find the Joker," developed by our heroes, and mastered by our non-narrator. What you will hear is that our duo went to sleep that night, not saddened by the money they lost, but strengthened by the experience, and dreaming of the next time the chips are on the table...



After 5 months of playing, reading, and thinking the game, I feel it's time to start recording the thoughts inspired by this complicated game. Before we get started, I thought you all might like to know my background-- the angle you approach something affects the manner in which you learn and perform that something, so here goes:

Age: 26
Education: Master of Science, Computer Science (University of California, Irvine)
Past Life: Played football for 17 years-- high school --> college --> semipro

Poker History:
After a brief stint as a card counter, I found that the edge a good player can obtain in Texas Hold 'Em far exceeds any edge on the blackjack table. Although I'd rather take money from a huge casino bankroll than a fellow poker player, the psychological part of poker is more appealing than the mindless math of blackjack. I developed my game playing many hours on Wilson's Turbo Texas Hold 'Em, the best software tool for learning Hold Em. Lee Jones' book was the first I read, followed by some Sklansky and both of Krieger's books. I quickly moved past the wild $2-4 games (learning about variance along the way) at the local B&M to the $3-6 games where I took a few lumps while learning, but generally did ok. I did better online, where the play is more rational ("by the book") and it's much easier to put people on hands. Not surprisingly, I am a much bigger winner in the tight online games (where people actually fold and there is much more skill in reading hands) than in the wild B&M games in LA. I'm working on my "no fold 'em" skills, and still hoping to book that monster win at the Hollywood Park (my B&M) $6.12 game.

I keep session statistics with, an excellent free site that helps keep track of your stats over time. Here are my stats so far:

RESULTS FROM 2003-05-30 TO 2003-10-19 — I AM $1466.84 AHEAD OVER 142 DAYS.
EARNINGS: $1466.84 AVG. RETURN: $12.43 RETURN STD.: $149.60
WIN RATE: $5.57/HR AVG. WIN RATE: $21.22/HR WIN RATE STD.: $117.58/HR
HOURS: 263.53 AVG. HOURS: 2.23

Note that the number of hours is inflated, since I usually play 2 tables at the same time when playing online. PokerCharts also gives us the following nugget:

From 2003-05-30 to 2003-10-19 I have mostly played Hold 'Em (84% of the time), and after that Tournament Hold 'Em (16% of the time). I am most successful playing Hold 'Em ($1,324 overall), and least successful playing Tournament Hold 'Em ($143 overall). In terms of venues, I play best at PartyPoker ($2,663 overall) and worst at Hollywood Park ($-1,016 overall). I have been averaging 12.99 hours of poker a week, or 11.60% of my waking hours (assuming I sleep eight a night).

I have moved up the limits to play $6-12 at B&M and $5-10 online (two tables). This is a little bit over my head bankroll wise, although I have a good job and some savings, so I suppose I'm in decent shape as far as bankroll goes. It is worth noting that in the last week, I have had both my biggest losing session and my biggest winning session. The biggest loser was at a wild weekend no fold em $6.12 game at Hollywood Park: $-680 in 9 hours! I had all kinds of bad beats, and while playing pretty well overall, I loosened up a bit too much at the end of the night, so I attribute a good portion of the loss to a lesser form of tilt. Luckily 3 days later (after vowing to "take a break" from poker) I was able to book a $660 win playing 2 party $5.10 tables for only an hour and fifteen minutes. There were a couple players just giving their money away, and I caught a nice run of cards... needless to say I felt a lot better about the big loss... and my best hourly win rate was 4 times greater than my worst hourly loss rate!

That's it for my introduction. Hopefully this journal will help me improve my game, as well as give me a chance to develop some thoughts worth developing. And if it gives some readers a few laughs or nods of recognition along the way, that would be nice too...

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