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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Bonuses bonuses bonuses
In my last post I went on for quite a bit about how I've gotten one hell of a lot more money through bonuses than I have through actual poker play. The moral of the story is that I'd like my poker "earnings" figure to be a lot higher than it is. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to be racking up the bonuses where I can. With the 4th of July this weekend, there's a lot to choose from.

First and foremost, I got a snail-mail coupon from Absolute Poker (I'm a member of the "Absolute rewards program") that will give me a 40 percent bonus on a deposit of $250. That's $100, plus I get 4 Absolute player points for every $1 deposited, so I'll have 1,000 more of those. At 10,000 I can host private tourneys, which I think will be very cool. This "hump-day" coupon is good on any deposit made on a Wednesday through July 14th.

But there's also a 30 percent deposit available on deposits made today. Should I deposit some now, clear the bonus, withdraw the money, and then deposit again on the 14th? That would also mean more points for the private tourney thing.

Also Paradise has a 20 percent deposit available for the 4th of July weekend, as I expect most of the poker sites do. They're still my go-to site for 7-card stud (I'm up $75 on their .50/$1 tables since I started playing on June 18).

Decisions decisions.

Aside from alerting anyone who may be interested in these bonuses, I guess I just want to emphasize one point that I was trying to get at in my last post, but which may have gotten lost in all my number-crunching: For the truly low limit player -- $1/$2 and under -- the bonuses that are available out there, properly managed, can dwarf what you're likely to win at the tables if you're just casually playing for a few hours each week. The upside is obvious: Online poker more than pays for itself as a hobby. The downside (for the poker play looking to improve his game): These bonuses can more than compensate for bad play.

I've heard many a blogger wonder how the really fishy, throwing-away-money players on Party and elsewhere can play the way they do--don't these fish realize how much money they're losing? One answer: They're playing with "free money." I think many of the loose-aggressive low-limit players have just discovered online poker; they've gone bonus-whoring mad and gotten hundreds of dollars in bonuses (don't froget refer-a-friends); and then they sit down at the lowest limits looking to dominate the table with aggression. This is more than just a theory . . . as I described in my last post, I was guilty of this behavior on 3 or 4 beer-soaked evenings last summer. The good news for serious players is that the bonus chasers' "free" money becomes your poker earnings.

More bonus & overlay info: For anyone who hasn't played on Absolute Poker yet, they're offering a 35 percent initial deposit bonus throughout the month of July. They've also got the Thursday night $10 NL Hold'em tourney with $4,000 added, and this Sunday, the 4th of July, they will be holding a $5 tourney with $4,000 guaranteed in the prize pool. I don't mean to sound like a shill, but I like the site, and I feel like AP is really making an effort to attract new players with good deals. Aside from whatever small compensation I get if you click on the link at the right, I would really just like to see more players on the site.

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Friday, June 25, 2004

Back in the Black
I won $73.29 last night in Absolute Poker's $10+1, $3,000 added multi-table NL Hold'em tourney. I finished 16 out of 429 (actually I played on my wife's more-stable computer and accidentally signed on as her, so it's her username in the standings, but I earned the win :). I am particularly happy about this for two reasons:
  1. It was the first multi-table tourney I've played in over a month. I had decided that tourneys aren't really my thing and that I should concentrate most of my attention on improving my limit ring game. I still believe this, but it's nice to think that I can hold my own in a NL tourney anyway.
  2. The $73 win puts me back in the black in terms of overall poker earnings.
"But JD," you ask, "I'm surprised to hear that you were in the red to begin with." Well readers, if you go back to my second-ever post, you'll see that at the time I said I was "up" $354.83, but that $454.10 of that was really bonus money, so technically I was "down" $99.27. I had a really bad run at Paradise the very same week that I started the blog, and I was soon down more than $150.

Let me explain. I assume that most people calculate their online poker winnings pretty straightforwardly:
(money I currently have in the sites) + (money I've taken out of the sites) - (money I put into the sites) = (net winnings)
Sounds simple enough, right? Plugging my numbers into that equation, my net winnings since I started in April 2003 equal $630.81.

I am very happy about this figure. Most hobbies cost money, but online poker pays me an average of $42 a month!

When most people talk about the size of their poker bankroll, I assume they are using this "net winnings" figure. However, the "net winnings" figure includes bonuses. This raises the question, how much I have actually won playing poker? How much have I actually earned the hard way, grinding it out, against other players and the rake? Let's call this new figure "poker earnings." We can calculate it easily enough:
(net winnings) - (bonuses) = (net earnings)
My net earnings are a whopping $1.71, because I have cleared $629.10 in bonuses. The hard truth is that in terms of pure poker play, I'm only breaking even. (Ouch, truth-in-blogging hurts!)

I actually believe that the picture is quite a bit brighter than this. The $1.71 earnings figure is since the very first day I played online. I made some really bonehead plays in the my first couple months, while I was still learning not just how to play the cards well, but also how to manage the highs and lows of the game. There were a couple weekends last summer where I just went on tilt, playing way too much and going through $80+ in a weekend. I also lost about $50 in a failed attempt to master Omaha 8 Hi-Lo. But mostly these disasters were beer-related. Here's what happens when I sit down to play online poker after a night at the bars:
  1. My attention span is nil. Folding is boring. I start playing bad hands.
  2. Aggression goes way up. You're raising me?! I reraise!
  3. Alcohol-induced false confidence. "This .50/$1 is a waste of time. I know I can beat $2/$4" . . .
What would generally happen was that if I cleared a really big bonus, I'd step up to $1/$2 or even $2/$4 and get my ass handed to me, often after I'd had a few beers. By getting large bonuses and losing them, my earnings dipped way into the negative--to the tune of negative $200 at several points, even as my winnings continued to grow. Amazingly, my poker winnings have never been negative, ever, since I started playing online. That is what I meant when I said in my "my poker background" post that "Bonuses are great, but they are contributing to the major weakness in my game, which is that I often don't take online play seriously enough."

I also stated in that post that "This blog is part of my plan to rededicate myself to improving my game." I've stopped the foolishness. Getting back into the black has been my primary goal for the past couple months, and I am very happy to report success.

A more comforting number is my poker earnings since I started using PokerTracker on May 19: $159.71.

My buddy Odog is arriving at Providence airport in a couple hours, for a mutual friend's wedding tomorrow night, so I won't post or play poker again until Sunday. But I feel that my next post should be on setting some new poker goals for myself. Primarily, I want to move up in limits--the devil is in the details. More next time . . .

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Ashley Adams's Winning 7-Card Stud
A couple weeks ago I posted about my purchase of Ashley Adams's Winning 7-Card Stud. I finished it very quickly, as it's an easy read, but figured I'd wait to post my thoughts about the book until I had put its lessons to the test a few times. (So far I've played 5 sessions of .50/$1 7-Stud on Paradise, maybe 3.5 hours total, and I'm up $59. It's not statistically significant or anything, but it is confidence-building :)

First off, when I mentioned buying a 7-Card Stud book, I got this comment from Felicia: "Please buy Seven Card Stud for Advanced Players. Please, please! Take my word for it. Don't mess around with anything else." Rest assured that I will be purchasing Sklansky et al.'s book, for three reasons:
  1. 7-Card Stud is turning out to be far more fun to play online that I'd thought it would be.
  2. Adams's book is strictly for beginners, and it's left me wanting to learn more.
  3. Felicia, probably the best 7-Card Stud player among the many poker bloggers I read, recommended it!
That said, I am glad to have read a beginner's book on Stud, both because I wanted to make sure I knew the basic strategy of the game, and because I assume that Sklansky et al.'s book will be geared for higher limits and more sophisticated players than I'm likely to face anytime soon.

Winning 7-Card Stud was probably a little more oriented to beginners than I really needed--Adams's first chapter is directed at someone who's never played casino poker before. I think it does a very good job in this respect: If I had a friend who was just dying to play poker in a casino ASAP, I might give them this book. (Of course, said friend would probably only want to play Hold'em, but after reading Adams's book I think 7-Card Stud might be the more appropriate game for the complete newbie.) Throughout the book, Adams doesn't just discuss strategy--he also incorporates advice on casino etiquette, how much money to sit down with, the different types of players you're likely to face, dealing with losses and tilt, etc.

Adams's second chapter, appropriately titled "A Winning Basic Strategy," is the real meat of the book, where he prescribes minimum starting hands and how to play them. It's far and away the longest chapter in the book. Some of his teachings I'd read elsewhere, in general how-to poker books such as Edwin Silberstang's The Winner's Guide to Casino Poker and Andy Nelson's Poker: A Winner's Guide. But it was nice to see the bare-bones info I'd read elsewhere fleshed out. Adams's basic strategy is a lot simpler than I would've thought. I know 7-Card Stud is a complex game and that there are tons of levels I have yet to aspire to, but just reading through the tight, straightforward style that Adams's recommends made me feel confident that at the low-limit level, there's not a whole lot of mystery as to how to play: Fold, fold, fold, and bet when you have it.

The remaining chapters of the the book are titled "Deception," "Putting people on Hands," "Expanding Your Repertoire," and "General Poker Concepts." None of these chapters were as useful. They deal with topics such as bluffing, semi-bluffing, the free card, etc., concepts which I am familiar with from Hold'em and are covered in far more depth in Sklansky's Theory of Poker. But again, this might be great reading for the beginner, and reinforced my view that Winning 7-Card Stud could make a very good introduction-to-poker book.

One of the final sections of the last chapter is subtitled "Taking It to the Next Level," where Adams says that his book is not intended to help one beat the higher limits, and that for that the reader should turn to Sklansky et al.'s book.

Early on in Winning 7-Card Stud I was reminded of Lee Jones's Winning Low Limit Hold'Em, and the comparison stuck with me throughout. Jones's book is the one that helped me start beating the low limits, and it remains the #1 book I recommend to new Hold'em players. Later I read Sklansky and Malmuth's Hold'Em Poker for Advanced Players, and I really haven't stopped rereading it since.

Is Ashley Adams to 7-Card Stud what Lee Jones is to Texas Hold'em? And if so, is Winning 7-Card Stud to Seven Card Stud for Advanced Players what Winning Low Limit Hold'Em is to Hold'Em Poker for Advanced Players? And why has this post suddenly started to sound like the SAT exam?

To sum up: I liked Winning 7-Card Stud, and I am really liking winning at 7-Card Stud. But as in Hold'em, the basics only give you the ability to beat bad, loose players. So I'll be buying Hold'Em Poker for Advanced Players.

A Couple Notes

Notes? Geez, what is this, a research paper? . . .

1. Paradise .50/$1 has no ante. Easy to sit there and wait for the right starting hands. On Absolute (the only other place I've played 7-Stud so far) there is a nickel ante, and not only did that damn nickel make it harder for me to sit there and fold, it made it so that most of the players saw 4th and 5th street, cause "hey, I'm already invested for a nickel." Party pots = more variance.

2. I may purchase Seven Card Stud for Advanced Players through this deal. (I already have an account on Pacific Poker, but Mrs. Cheap Thrills doesn't.)

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Thursday, June 24, 2004

Speaking of ESPN . . .
A new poker article today on ESPN's Page 2, not by Jackpot Jay: Jeff Merron writes about Rounders. Also Liam McHugh writes about gambling moments in television (warning: very little poker or gambling content in that one).

Also let me add my thundering agreement with Anisotropy about how upset I am at the sheer ignorance of the game displayed in Bill "The Sport Guy" Simmons's recent article, where he insinuates that professional poker is all luck. Of course we all know that luck is a big part, but the short shrift that Simmons gives the issue is just awful. Go and read Anisotropy for a better critique.

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WPT Reno Thoughts
The World Poker Tour needs to introduce a variable ending. Wouldn't it be cool if one week it just ended at 10:49, on a hand you thought couldn't possibly be the last hand because of the clock? They could fill the reminaing 11 minutes with Shana Hiatt frolicking on a beach or something.

Cause I gotta say, the heads-up portion of the show is getting to be the least interesting for me, especially when it starts rather early in the program. You know that neither of the final two players will be busting out until 11:56 or so.

Last night I was rooting for Paul "Eskimo" Clark the whole way, in large part because they introduced him as a "high-stakes cash game" player. I like the idea of the grizzled high-stakes player coming in and teaching the tournament players a lesson. Eskimo quote: "I'm as cool as I can be. You gotta be cool to bust people."

Being a fellow A-Team fan, I almost starting pulling for Harry "I love it when a plan comes together" Knoll, but then I remembered how Harry had slowplayed AA, not raising preflop, and inviting Eskimo to draw out on him. He did do a marvelous job of talking so much that he got Peter Muller to call top pair with nothing. Still don't know what "Don't worry about the mule, just load the wagon" means, but I'm gonna start using it.

I didn't have a "Vince Van Patten Quote of the Week" for last week's "Crusin' Mexico" episode (aka the Party Poker Million), and I don't have one for this week. I don't know if VVP got less funny or I got jaded or what, but I suspect that VVP's commentary is less looney this season because of the show's success--gotta figure they're doing a better job of editing the show and partially scripting VVP.

Mike Sexton had the best line about the Reno winner, midwesterner Michael Kinney: "Count your potatos if you live up there in Idaho."

The Legality Issue

While I'm at it, a comment about last week's episode. How about that "poker is a party" Shana Hiatt segment, featuring several pros saying thing like "I love a party!" and "I've been playing at the party for a while"? First, I love the wink-wink advertising for Party Poker. But I couldn't help but start to wonder about how the World Poker Tour TV show (and the soon-to-be-televised WSOP) is going to affect the debate over online poker/gambling in the long term. The WPT has contract with the Travel Channel through something like 2009. The 2003 ESPN WSOP broadcast has been getting great ratings and the 2004 likely will too. Raymer and Moneymaker both qualified online, as have many WPT contestants, and the hosts of these shows make frequent mention of that.

Yet the FCC won't let Party Poker and other online poker rooms advertise on TV, and Harrah's and the WPT have prohibited the wearing of online poker room logos, perhaps because of legal concerns? How ridiculous is this? As flipchipro put a few weeks back: "Come on people, let’s give credit where credit is due. If not for online casinos and television the World Series of Poker would continue to be played in a tent under the valet parking veranda by a group of old dudes that no one outside the industry knows."

I do not expect that online poker/casinos will become explicitly legal anytime soon, since there are so many forces (principally brick & mortar casinos) arrayed against it. (For background, the PokerProf has a good post on the legality of online poker.) The "it's there, it's illegal, but we can't really stop it" mentality about online gambling has been around for several years. But not until this past year and a half have there been two hit shows on network cable bringing the issue into the spotlight. While TV pundits liken the poker shows to "reality TV" and Jay Lovinger debates whether poker is a sport, the fact is that the WSOP and WPT are making it obvious--to million of Americans who whould have never thought about it otherwise--that lots of people are playing poker online, legally or illegally, and some of them are winning lots of money and getting 15 minutes of fame doing it.

Will there be a mainstream debate about online poker's technically-illegal-but-mainstream status anytime soon? I don't know, but that "poker is a party!" Shana Hiatt segment sure did get me thinking about it.

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Monday, June 21, 2004

Doubled Up at Foxwoods -- Woo-Hoo!
A few weeks ago I posted about a Friday night that B (Mrs. Cheap Thrills) and I spent at Foxwoods. In that post I wrote about how few hours I've put into live casino poker as compared to online play. I am becoming a very confident online Hold'em player, but sitting down at a real casino card table I still feel a bit like a newbie. Well, that won't do at all, so I've committed myself to heading down to Foxwoods at least once every 6 weeks, and hopefully once a month.

This weekend B was out of town, so I cruised down to Foxwoods Friday night. Last time we had set out at 4pm; this time I ate a good dinner beforehand and didn't leave until 6:30. For some reason the traffic was actually a little worse, but the wait at the cardroom was still a mere 20 minutes and I was seated by 8pm. I bought in for $100 at the $2/$4 table.

Irrational Jitters

I have to admit that I still got a bit nervous when I first sat down at the table. I guess it's just the hustle and bustle of the busy Foxwoods cardroom, coupled with the anticipation of playing--my adrenaline level just seems to go up when those first cards are dealt to me. I was seated at the uncomfortable 1 position, with the dealer toke box jamming into my right thigh. Also during my 20 minute wait I couldn't find an issue of Cardplayer to read, so instead I had purchased a Daily Racing Form--which is about twice the size of a standard magazine--and I was having a hard time finding somewhere to put the damn thing as I sat down.

So I'm feeling nervous, uncomfortable, and awkward. Also mildy paranoid. The 4 guys at one end of the table (in the 7, 8, 9, and 10 seats) seemed to know each other, and I start worrying about whether they'll be trying to raise people out of pots or otherwise engage in collusion.

This state of heightened nervousness only lasted 10 minutes or so. I forced myself to calm down and get comfortable. And I quickly realized that my nervousness and paranoia were completely irrational. The 4 guys on the end may know each other, but they're joking around and having a good time. Surely that's a better sign than if they were sitting there all silent and intense-like. And as I actually begin to concentrate on the game I see that only 3 other players seem to be remotely tight. Even better, there's very little raising. Also, the cocktail waitress finally notices me, and the cold beer is very soothing, even if there's only 8 ounces of it.

After I'm there for a couple hands the 4 guys at the end of the table notice me. "Hey, new guy! How ya doin?" "Whoa, Hawaii 5-0, that's a nice shirt. You can tell this guy's on vacation!" (I like to wear a Hawaiian shirt at the casino; it reminds me of being in Las Vegas.) For the rest of the night the guys refer to me as "Hawaii." One of the guys was a real class-clown type, and throughout the evening he was giving funny little nicknames to new players as they sat down, flirting with female dealers, etc.

Good Cards, Loose Players

The first pot I won was with K-10 suited. It had been 3-bet preflop, I made the flush on the turn, and had like 3 callers on the river. Big pot. The next hand I won was with a pair of 8s when I made my set on the flop. Bigger pot. Then my big slick paired a King on the flop and it held up. Small pot. I was at the table for at least 2 hours and had taken 5 pots before I lost a showdown.

Turns out the 4 guys on the end were just about as loose as can be. Let me state the obvious: Players who are fun, friendly, and loose-passive make for a freakin' great table. If there was any collusion going on, it was that they would only fold on the river if one of them had already called, so that they could all see the winning hand. I think they might have been there for a convention or something; one of them had a sticker on his chest. Whatever the case, they didn't come to fold and they didn't seem to care about the money. The clowny guy must've burned through $200 just in the time I was there. Boy was I a moron for getting nervous about them.

The 10-seat had called me down on my first 3 winning hands. It was kind of funny because we couldn't really see each other well, with the dealer between us, and on the hand after I had raised/bet him the whole way with AK, he bet out on the next hand, then asked the other guys "Did Hawaii raise again? Jeez, that guy's scaring the crap out of me." He was just kidding, and showing he wasn't angry about the previous loss. They were all pretty funny guys and gracious losers. I consciously reminded myself not to get ego-inflated and to just play smart and tight.

And it was good that I did continue to play tight, because my rush was over. I won a few more hands, but no more really big pots. I had doubled up, though!

Still Learning the Finer Points of Not Looking Like an Idiot at the Casino

I didn't like being in the 1-seat, so when the 6-seat opened up I asked for a seat change. At the time we had a dealer who didn't speak English well, and she told me no, trying to explain that I would need to pay the big blind again if I moved. By the time I made it clear that I didn't care about the $2, could I just please take the better seat, the seat was taken by a new player. Then she gave me the "seat change" button and I eventually relocated to the 4-seat. This is the kind of thing I need to learn: Next time I'm in a bad seat I'll just ask for the seat change button immediately.

Relocating to the 4-seat was awkward for a couple of reasons. First, I had about $210 in $2 chips, and I laboriously moved them stack by stack across the the table from the 1 to the 4-seat, with the whole table watching me. I should have gone and gotten a rack, but I was worried the new player would arrive and take the seat. Next time I'll just throw my Cardplayer or whatever out there to claim the seat. Second, I don't think the 3-seat cared for me moving to his left, and he mumbled something to that effect. He actually turned out to be pretty cool, and later we shared a couple "oh the humanity" moments at the awful play going on at the other end of the table. However, I should be prepared from now on to that kind of reaction to my seat change and 1) do my seat change ASAP after sitting down and 2) not give a flying f*** if anybody gives me a hard time about it.

Another thing about casino play--the novelty of not being sure exactly how much money is in front of you. I can't help buy hear Kenny Rogers singing "you never count your money . . . " but that's exactly what I had to do several times. That's another thing I need to stay on top of.

Deciding When to Quit

At one point in the evening I was up to $250. I made decision that I'm still a little ambivalent about--having more than doubled up, I determined that I wasn't going to let my stack dip below $200. Overall I think this was a sensible decision, but I could also hear a little shark on my shoulder yelling "What are you, a wuss? This isn't blackjack, it's poker, and this is the juciest table you've ever seen!" However, by 11:00 the shoulder shark was quieting down. I kept getting decent cards and having the flop miss me entirely, which is course worse than just getting lousy hole cards. Also several players left and the table mood began to change. In particular, the calling-station 10-seat was replaced by a silent, older, Asian gentleman who had "I am not a fish" tattooed on his forehead. I am kidding about that last part.

The last straw was that a dealer with short arms sat down at our table. By "a dealer with short arms" I mean that the dealer sat down and when it came time to pull in bets or folded cards she announced "I have short arms" and those of us on the ends hand to push in the chips and cards for her. This is the second time in 2 visits that I have been a short-armed dealer's table. It kind of reminds me of when you get a customer service representatiove on the phone who doesn't speak English well--it just seems like a serious impediment to the job. Don't get me wrong, I understand that a dealer's job is difficult--dealing poker seems much more difficult than dealing other games--but that's why I tip. Having the dealer admonish "push em in, fellas" every hand and every round of betting is just one more distraction at the table.

With the cold cards, the new players, and the short-armed dealer, I decided it was about time to go. I saw the flop one more time with Ax suited, it missed entirely, and I stood up. I had $202. With exactly $200 fitting in the rack, the extra $2 went to Short Arms.

Victorious JD

I had won $100. I know that's not much in the grand scheme of things, but for yours truly of the Cheap Thrills it was the biggest casino casino win--in fact, the biggest single-session poker win--I've ever had. (I paid $15 in dealer and cocktail waitress tips, so I guess I could call it a $115 win.)

I got home by 12:15am, and after a few minutes of the Victorious JD dance, I hopped onto Paradise Poker. I won $25 at .50/$1 Hold'em and $20 at .50/$1 7-Card Stud before hitting the hay. I had never even played .50/$1 7-Card Stud before! I went to bed confident that I was either 1) a Complete Poker Bad-Ass or 2) having a really lucky night. I think it was probably #2, but the little shark on my shoulder was screaming "You're #1! You're #1!"

A Note on the Rake

Seriously though, I had great cards and a great table at Foxwoods, and I know that won't happen all the time. Another consideration is that I actually paid attention to the rake this time, after Chris Halverson had commented on my previous post that being down $15 over 6 hours is actually slightly "up" due to the rake. I meant to ask the dealer about the rake but forgot. I am surprised that I cannot find specific rake info on the Foxwoods website. A search of "Foxwoods rake" on Google turns up one guy saying "[At $2/$4] they rake $1 for evey $10 in the pot capped at $4," and on RGP Ashley Adams says that it's "10 percent with a $4 max." I'm pretty sure the dealer was taking $2 off the flop on Friday. I'll definitely ask for specifics next time I'm there.

Anyway, the point is that $2/$4 at Foxwoods just may not be very profitable over the long term. Clearly I should move up to $4/$8 ASAP, where the rake would still be $4 but the pots would be bigger. However, I don't want to jump up in limits after just one win. I'll do a few more sessions at $2/$4 and work on getting really comfortable at the casino first.

Another consideration: B and I are headed out to San Francisco in August. She's got a convention to go to; for me it'll be pure vacation. I'm thinking about hitting a California cardroom (Bay 101?) and we are also considering doing a 1 or 2 night stopover in Las Vegas on the way back. (Woo-hoo!) So I better get ready to play some $3/$6 and $4/8.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Shade Movie Review
For my short-attention span readers, I'll give a quick 2 cents before getting into a detailed review: If you enjoy poker, you'll probably enjoy Shade quite a bit. That's not to say that it's a very good movie. In fact, most people would say it's a very bad movie. But it's a pretty fun bad movie, especially for poker people.

Now onto my full review. I've tried not to give anything away, but if you hate knowing anything at all about a movie before seeing it, then of course you should skip this post entirely.

The Poker Movie That Somehow Missed the Poker Craze

Back on April 9, I posted about a movie called Shade that stars Sylvester Stallone and Gabriel Byrne and is ostensibly about poker. At the time I hoped the movie might do well, reasoning that poker is huge right now and the it might still be in its limited-release run during the World Series of Poker. I was mostly interested in Shade's box office potential because I enjoy managing a portfolio of fake money investments on the Hollywood Stock Exchange.

Well, the movie went nowhere and I lost 200,000 fake dollars on HSX. I remained perplexed. How could a movie about gangsters and poker, featuring half a dozen reasonably well-known actors, not take in at least as much as that movie where the guy eats McDonald's for a month and (surprise surprise) gets fat?

Today we received Shade from Netflix and I got to find out. The main problem is that this is not really a poker movie. It's more of an homage to The Hustler and its poker cousin, The Cincinnati Kid, with lots of stuff borrowed from con movies like House of Games and The Grifters. If you've seen Confidence, imagine that movie with poker and card tricks thrown in. If I was judging the film as most film critics would, I guess I'd say that it doesn't know what it wants to be and it has too many things going on at once.

But I'm reviewing this movie from a poker player's perspective -- and Shade is at least enough about poker that Jamie Foxx's first line in the movie is "all in."

Gabriel Byrne, Stuart Townsend, and Thandie Newton (from Mission Impossible 2) play con artists who specialize in rigged poker games. Townsend plays "the mechanic" and can do amazing things with a deck of cards. Sylvester Stallone plays "The Dean" -- the Minnesota Fats/Lancey Howard of the film. (For readers who don't know, I play as LanceyH on several poker sites.)

"The Dean" is the best there is -- but he's not a "good poker player" in the way you think.. Turns out he's a legendary mechanic. Marked cards, bottom-dealing, that kind of thing. In the world of Shade, winning at poker is primarily about cheating. This will no doubt upset many poker players who are hoping to see a poker movie. Consider yourself warned.

I won't try to summarize the plot -- there's plenty of twists and turns, some predictable, some not so much, and they're a very fun part of the film. Another fun part is the over-the-top (read: bad) dialogue. Early on a corrupt cop (named Scarne in an inside joke) who's shaking down the con artists says "When I want your opinion, I will dial your fucking asshole." Shakespeare it ain't -- Coen Brothers it ain't, even though Byrne's character reminded me a little of Tom from Miller's Crossing. Fans of gambling movies may also enjoy pointing out which scenes seem to be stolen straight out of other movies.

Ultimately the film's central premise is funny after a while. There's a big build-up, with Townsend's character wanting to sit down with The Dean, a famous card cheat. In the climactic scene, they square off at the poker table, trying to out-maneuver each other with different ways of cheating. Despite or because of that slightly absurd undertone, the climactic scene was a lot of fun to watch. It's also helped by Stallone's performance -- he's a fun actor to make fun of but in this film he steals every scene he's in. Not to mention Michael Dorn (Worf!).

There are enough over-the-top scenes that by the end of the film I decided I was laughing with the movie rather than at it. That is, I think the filmmakers must have known how cliched a lot of the movie was. But I think the tongue-in-cheek element isn't nearly overt enough for most viewers to catch -- or be amused by. And that means box office poison.

One really cool part of the movie is the card tricks. The opening and closing credits appear over two disembodied hands that are doing amazing tricks for the camera, and during the movie Stuart Townsend does several cool deck-stacking tricks. Those tricks are filmed all in one shot, just like the shots of Paul Newman and Tom Cruise doing trick pool shots in The Hustler and The Color of Money. In one of the DVD featurettes writer/director Damian Neiman confirmed that he was stealing from/paying tribute to those movies more than anything else.

Speaking of that featurette, it shed a lot of light on how this movie got made. Neiman is a himself a "cardman," which is evidently the term for a magician who specializes in card tricks. In the featurette he and his peers do a bunch of tricks, and the featurette is as much fun as the movie. I got the feeling that this movie got made mostly because he was able to sell the idea of a "card-trick-poker-Hustler-remake" to the film's producers and cast.

Oh, and the featurette addresses another thing about the movie that will drive many poker players crazy. In two different scenes in the movie, the whole concept of table stakes is thrown out the window, with raisers threatening to "buy the pot" unless shorter-stacked players borrow enough money to call. In the featurette, Neiman says outright that he is fully aware of the concept of table stakes, that he knew those two scenes would send poker players into fits, but that he wanted to add drama to the story and pay homage to films like The Cincinnatti Kid and A Big Hand for the Little Lady. That comment more than anything proves that this movie, while entertaining, is a little too self-aware for its own good.

The bottom line remains, this is a movie with poker and gangsters -- you know you're going to rent it or at least catch it on Sunday afternoon cable sooner or later :) Have a beer in hand to prepare for tongue in cheek, and enjoy how good a bad movie can be.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Bonus Alert
I put a little Absolute Poker banner on my blog, and the next thing you know I'm shilling about their next bonus. Actually there's a simple cause and effect explanation: because I signed up as an affiliate, I got an e-mail today alerting me about a 25% reload bonus this weekend. Quoth the e-mail:
Starting on June 18th - June 23rd All players will receive 25% on ALL deposits, initial and re-loads!

Even better...June 25th

Absolute Poker is offering the FIRST ever Rake Free ’Till it Breaks marathon!
Starting Friday June 25th at 8pm Absolute Poker will put an unlimited number of $6/$12 Holdem tables into play, and they will be 100% rake free until they break!
I'm posting about it because I hate when I get an e-mail from Party or whoever telling me about a reload bonus on such short notice that I can't take advantage of it. Unfortunately the 6/12 rake-free thing is not a cheap enough thrill for my bankroll.

Anyway, happy bonus whoring!

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Monday, June 14, 2004

Whooped on Stars, Fled to Saratoga
I first created a PokerStars account almost a year ago out of curiosity. But I had never deposited money there. I'd read that the tournament software was great, but that the players were very good too.

Fast forward to Greg Raymer winning the World Series of Poker. By getting 4 players to the final table of the 2004 WSOP, and backing 2 WSOP champs in a row, PokerStars is really making a name for itself. But it also seems to send a message that really great players are at PokerStars -- and since I like to win I don't really want to play against some the best competition out there. Still, I thought once the 2004 WSOP airs on ESPN, maybe PokerStars will receive a massive a influx of new players like Party Poker did after it advertised on the Word Poker Tour. Wouldn't it be great if the fishiest online poker site also had great software?

Chasing the Stars Bonus

After the WSOP PokerStars announced a "back-to-back" 25% deposit bonus. I took the bait and deposited $80.


I first went up $15 last Sunday night at their .25/.50 tables. Just getting my feet wet. But to clear the bonus, I needed to accumulate 100 (actually it may have been more, I forget) Frequent Player Points (FPPs), and in 2+ hours of .25/.50, I hadn't earned a single FPP. So then last Wednesday I sat down at the .50/$1 tables.

Sure enough, I was accumulating FPPs at .50/$1. But boy were the tables tight and aggressive! I can handle tight -- the .50/$1 tables on Paradise often get very tight. I figured I'd just play tight as well, only play really great starting cards, and clear my bonus. But the aggressiveness on Stars threw me off my game a bit. There was a pre-flop raise on most hands (which I know is good poker -- I'm just not used to having a table full of good players!) and it seemed that whenever I tried to limp in with a pair or whatever from late position it was either 3-bet or capped. There were a couple guys who were just running over the table, often raising everybody on every street and taking pots down uncontested. Plus there were only 4 .50/$1 tables, and they all seemed about the same in terms of toughness.

I give myself a little credit because I realized what was happening to me and that I needed to adapt. After losing the $15 profit I had made at 25/.50, I decided to really tighten up and just get the damn bonus cleared. But the aggressiveness put me on a minor tilt. Knowing that players would raise or 3-bet with merely decent starting hands, I started defending my better blinds too much. When I had a good hand I tried to play back at the "big dogs," reraising them when the flop hit me. I made some good aggressive plays but I also made some foolishly loose plays (that's always the danger when I try to get more aggressive), and overall my stack was going down.

Most importantly, my confidence was down. I was definitely not in control. Looking around the table and trying to find the sucker, I was starting to think that it was me. Not good.

I was down to about $65 (from my original $80) when I got Aces. Finally, I thought, just give me one big pot and I'll be back on track. Instead, somebody with a pair of 7s caught their set on the river. I actually yelled at the monitor at this point, and I usually never get that upset about a bad beat. It was obvious that I needed to take a break.

At that point I had collected 42 out the required 100 FPPs, but was down to $55 out of my original $80. I faced a tough call -- cut my losses now, or persevere and clear the $20 bonus. I was down 25 big bets, which really isn't that bad. I figured about half that loss was cold cards, and the other half was me getting caught up in the vibe of the table and raising and reraising too much. But I knew I was too emotional to make a decision, so I resolved to wait until the morning to decide whether to cash out or give it another go.

When I woke up on Thursday I decided that I just had no desire to play at those tough tables again. Maybe I could adapt and hold my own. Maybe I could turtle up and clear the bonus without much further loss. But deep down I doubted that I could beat those players and the rake. I would be risking $55 to clear $20, and I wouldn't be having any fun doing it. I eventually hope to work up to higher limits, where I know that such tight-aggressive play is the norm. But not this week. I cashed out.

Back to Paradise and Absolute

I've mainly been playing on Paradise Poker (.50/$1) and Absolute Poker (.25/.50 because their .50/$1 tables are usually 6-max). Thursday I picked up $30 at Paradise. Last night I lost $16 of that back on Paradise, then went over to Absolute Poker and won $35 at the .25/.50 tables. There seems to be something about Absolute Poker on the weekends. During the week the games at all levels frequently get very shorthanded as players leave, but this is 2 Sundays in a row now that I have just dominated the .25/.50 tables, and it seemed that some players were just giving away money. House shills perhaps?

I didn't think Absolute Poker had an affiliate program, but either I was wrong or they just recently added one. I put a little banner to the right. If you haven't tried Absolute, give it a shot. Decent software, a good sit-n-go format, easy-to-clear bonuses, and soft games.

I am actually trying to accumulate 10,000 Absolute Rewards Points. If you do that you are awarded "VIP" status and can host your own private, single-table tournaments. I think this would be an awesome way to play poker with some of my buddies who don't live nearby.

Trying to Figure Out the Ponies

My wife B and I spent the weekend in Saratoga. B's dad is a lifelong racing fan and he and his S.O. retired and bought a place up there over the winter. What a fun town Saratoga is, and only about 3 hours from Providence. Saratoga's race season hasn't started yet, so Saturday we took a little tour of the town, then engaged in some simulcast betting before having dinner at The Parting Glass, where Hair of the Dog was playing. Cool band.

While watching the simulcasts I realized how little I know about horse racing. A few years back, B had tought me the basics of how to read the racing form, and at first I thought that knowing the difference between a quinnella and an exacta made me pretty knowledgeable. But that's like saying you know how to play poker well just because you know the hand rankings, and I'm always reminded of it when B and her dad start analyzing the races. So on the way out of town we stopped at Borders and I purchased Ainslie's Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing. It's mind-boggling how many variables a handicapper takes into account. I'm pretty sure I'll never be a winning horseplayer, but I'm enjoying learning about the intricacies. (Just like I'll never bet serious money on craps or baccarat, but I still like knowing how to play.)

I also picked up Ashley Adams's Winning 7-Card Stud -- part of my overall goal of becoming a well-rounded poker player. Unlike betting the ponies, I think I could become pretty good at 7-Card Stud. I'll post a more detailed review once I finish the book.

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Thursday, June 10, 2004

VVPQotW: Bay 101 Shooting Stars
I'm a day late in getting the Vince Van Patten Quote of the Week Up, because I was too busy playing online last night (more on that in my next post). Actually this gave me the chance to read some other bloggers' take on the episode before posting my own. Pokerama-rama has some interesting observations this week.

Moneymaker reaffirmed that he has a very likeable everyman quality. Also I noticed that everyone called him just "Moneymaker." So uncool to call him Chris.

Phil Gordon also has a strong "nice guy of poker" image, with that big grin of his and his friendly stylings on Celebrity Poker Letdown (copyright Pauly McGrupp), but in last night's episode he seemed determined to be grim. It was like he watched reruns of the first WPT Aruba, where it seemed he had a bit too much to drink, and decided he needed to serious-ify his image.

I fear that Mike Sexton had more good lines than VVP this week. (If this keeps up I'm going to have to change it from the Vince Van Patten Quote of the Week to the broader WPT Quote of the week.) When Suzie Kim went all-in after flopping a pair of jacks, against Scott Wilson's pocket 7s, Mike Sexton said, "Scott's two sevens just shrunk up a little bit." At that point B (aka Mrs. Cheap Thrills) turns to me and says "You know Mike Sexton wanted to say 'Scott's pair just shrunk up a little bit' there, but the WPT wouldn't allow it." Heh heh heh.

Now on to the VVPQotW. After Suzie made trip 8s on the river against Mark Mache's pocket 9s, VVP said
There's nothing worse than poker pain.
This was an example of Vince adding drama to a moment by tossing out a "poetic truth." A poetic truth is something that is not really true, but seems like it might be if you think either too hard or not enough about it :)

Next week: The WPT Hollywood Home Game 3 featuring James Woods and Daniel Baldwin. Am I alone in being geeky enough to know that they starred in John Carpenter's Vampires together?

Click here for last week's VVPQotW.

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Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Rounders Rerelease?
I hate to spread a rumor, but hey, it beats blogging about the $20 drubbing I took last night trying to clear my PokerStars bonus.

I was surfing around today and discovered the Unofficial World Poker Tour Fan Site. I think I've run across this before but with so many poker sites out there I hadn't delved too deeply. Anyway, in a discussion thread about Teddy KGB's tell in Rounders, a user by the name of cottes remarked today that "Speaking of Rounders; Both Chris Moneymaker and 'The Fossilman' are out in L.A. filming a bit that is going to be added to a new release of a Rounders DVD."

I had read rumors of a Rounders rerelease before on RGP, but it seemed mostly wishful thinking along the lines of "How cool would it be to have commentary trqacks by not just the actors and director, but also by poker pros?" This new bit of info from cottes intrigued me.

I clicked over to IMDB and found this post, also dated June 9: "Brian Koppelman, one of the screenwriters, posted on the rec.gambling.poker group that Miramax is releasing a commentary-heavy DVD at the end of the summer or in fall."

I hopped over to RGP to confirm. Sure enough, there's a post from Koppelman, but dated May 23: "As far as doing a commentary: Miramax is issuing a collector's edition dvd with plenty of commentary tracks." So I guess I just missed that bit of news.

Checked Amazon.com: Nothing but the regular version on sale there.

Well, that's the extent of the sleuthing I'm going to do on this for now. Needless to say I think it'd be cool if the Moneymaker/Raymer thing is true. The WPT and online poker are obviously main major factors, but I think Rounders's role in the current poker craze is sometimes overlooked. I know I'd pay for a new DVD edition that has a commentary track (or more likely, a "featurette") featuring a WSOP champion (Moneymaker) talking about the movie that inspired him to get into poker in the first place.

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Tuesday, June 08, 2004

No 2004 WSOP on ESPN Tonight
A couple weeks ago I printed ESPN's schedule for televising the 2004 World Series of Poker. Evidently that page is quite wrong. After reading the Poker Nerd's comment that that schedule was in error, I checked my TV listings and sure enough ESPN is just airing more of last year's WSOP tonight. Dang, I had my VCR set up to tape and everything.

According to Jay Lovinger, the 2004 WSOP debuts on ESPN July 6 at 9pm. (Poker Nerd also has a very good post critiquing Jackpot Jay. Also see Anisotropy for an interesting anti-ESPN rant.)

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Friday, June 04, 2004

Dysfunctional Americana Country
I try to keep the posts poker-related here at Cheap Thrills, but I hafta admit the link with this one is a bit tenous, as it's about what I've been listening to while playing poker online. Very briefly, I just discovered Shoutcast and am thrilled with it. I've got a lot of mp3s and have them organized in MusicMatch, but MusicMatch is a big memory hog and I usually experience problems when I have it and a poker site open at the same time. Not so with Shoutcast streaming through WinAmp.

My favorite station is Boot Liquor Radio: American Roots Music for Saddle-Weary Drunkards. They play "alt country," as well as classic stuff like the Outlaws and Hank Williams, along with some modern "Americana" stuff by non-country artists such as Springsteen and Elvis Costello. And much of it with a drinking theme. A frequent station identification: "Hey, you don't have to be drunk to listen to Boot Liquor Radio, but it sure does help."

And to keep this post as poker related as possible, here's the lyrics from the first verse of "30-20-10," by the Sovines, which Boot Liquor played last night:
I come out here two years ago with three kids and a wife
On the run from what I done in Kentucky with a knife
That boy had it comin'; anyone could plainly see
He was dealin' from the bottom, and it was him or me
Update, June 23, 2004

Boot Liquor has a new website and has moved from Shoutcast to Live365. Can't say I care for the move--the Live365 site is annoying and the sound quality is poorer--but it's still great music.

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Slate & Bloglines
I stumbled across a Slate.com article on the WSOP that I don't think I've seen mentioned elsewhere. An excerpt:
These days, every channel has a poker show. They all have those lipstick cameras that offer peeks at the players' hole cards and promise the nervy suspense that comes with an all-in bet. But Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown has witty celebs. The Travel Channel's World Poker Tour includes the game's best—or at least most famous—players duking it out in fancy resorts. The World Series, then, offers the big bucks and the idea that "anyone can win." Anyone can win, though, is less exciting than it sounds. In sports, it's fun to root for the underdog because of the small chance that he can knock off a superstar. But when anyone can win becomes anyone always wins, you're just left looking for a familiar face.

I stumbled across this article because I just signed up for Bloglines. Until last week I had been using SauceReader to keep track of all my favorite poker blogs, but then they released a new version which is very unstable on my crappy Windows ME system. I really liked some of the features in SauceReader but am so exasperated with my computer crashing lately that Bloglines has won me over.

I currently have about 50 poker blogs on my "blogroll," which you can view here. This number's gotten big enough that, with the exception of the Blogfather, if you don't have an RSS feed ("Atom" for Blogger bloggers) I'll be reading your blog more infrequently.

Brief recap of my recent play: Won $40 in a way-too-long (5.5 hours) session of .25/.50 on Absolute Monday night. It was just too hard to walk away from such soft tables. Lost $19 in 40 minutes at some far too tight-aggressive tables on Paradise last night. My family's coming up for a visit this weekend so I probably won't get in much poker.

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Thursday, June 03, 2004

VVPQotW: WPT Celebrity Invitational
I haven't seen anyone act so strangely on the World Poker Tour since Paul "X-22"/"Quack Quack" Magriel made the final table last year at the Reno Hilton. Phil Laak's behavior may have been odd, inappropriate, and possibly unsportsmanlike at a couple points, but I came away happy that he won, and this was certainly one of the most entertaining WPTs of the season. Antics aside, it was really very nice to see someone enjoying themselves so much at the poker table. I found myself thinking that the Unabomber would fit in great at one of our wackier home games (and while that could be read as an insult to his ability, I mean it as a decription of his likeability.)

Laak's trademark "hiding under his hood" maneuver, first made famous when he hid from a Howard Lederer staredown in last year's WSOP, was nothing compared to tonights antics. They started with his rooting for Antonio Esfandari to outdraw him when Laak was all-in, which Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten described as using "reverse psychology." Um, using reverse psychology againt playing cards? Lady luck? The metaphor didn't quite work for me.

When Joe Cassidy raised Laak in a later hand, Laak jokingly moved to take Cassidy's pulse before folding. Mike Sexton felt the need to explain to the home audience, "Now folks, you don't have to let a man take your pulse when you're at the table." Laak also did sit-ups and push-ups after winning key hands, and when he thought he was going to bust out, instead of getting up and pacing like most players, Laak would just start to put his shoes back on. One thing that would've annoyed me more than amused me, had I been at the final table [stifle guffaw], was that on all-in hands he would run around behind the dealer to announce the turn and river cards before they were even turned all the way over. The "dinosaur dance" cracked me up when he did it sitting down at the table, but it bordered on rude when he got up and was dancing around as he outdrew opponents.

But for the most part Laak just came off as bizarrely charming. At one point Mike Sexton said "Look at the guy. He's like a puppy. It's really hard not to love this guy." I don't think I'd go that far, but he did put on quite a show.

Both Laak and Humberto Brenes engaged in urging? persuading? pleading? cajoling? the dealer to turn over the cards that would help them. I guess they were doing it for the crowd, but I always find such behavior painful in casinos (you usually see it at blackjack tables) and I was suprised to see seasoned players getting that into it. One one of the final hands Laak put hs argument forth to the dealer: "He owns a mountain! I've got, like, an old car."

Gotta feel for John Juanda. He really seemed dazed when he finally busted out at the end, after having things go against him all night. He can take some small consolation in the fact that this was one of the lowest prize pools of the WPT season--only $100,000 to the winner, as compared to the $1.4 million that Antonio Esfandari won at the Commerce in the previously aired L.A. Poker Classic. Well, maybe that knowledge isn't all that comforting, but I guess it's better to have bad luck at a smaller prize pool event than a bigger one.

And finally, the Vince Van Patten Quote of the Week. This came early, when VVP remarked on Laak's gambooling it up by going all-in early:
This is a degenerate gambler's mind at work.
Pure VVP hyberbole: Laak was the short stack, and if he wanted to win he needed to gambool it up to some degree. But the best part was that VVP's quote was answered later in the "player profile" segment on Laak, when Laak said "I'm not just a poker degenerate. A sliver of me is a poker degenerate, and the rest of me is like a civilian."

So ask yourselves, fellow poker players, what is your own personal poker degenerate/civilian ratio?

Click here for last week's VVPQotW.

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