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Saturday, August 28, 2004

Our Big Trip, Part I: San Francisco
I'm back!

Actually I've been back since Sunday night, just recovering and catching up on stuff all week. There are over 400(!) unread posts in the poker folder of my Bloglines blogroll. Yikes. Figured I should get down my thoughts on our trip before I start trying to ctach up with everyone else.

As a quick recap, B and I left last Thursday the 12th for San Francisco. Thursday night and Friday we visited with friends, then Saturday through Monday were in San Francisco, I was mostly sight-seeing while B did conference stuff. Then Monday night we flew into Las Vegas and stayed until Thursday night. We arrived home Friday morning and slept til Friday night, when my mom and my aunt flew in to Providence from Phialdelphia, then we headed up to Saratoga for the weekend, and came back home to Providence on Sunday. Whew!

I started to write this all up as one big post, but now I've decided to split it into to two parts: The first on my brief excursion at Lucky Chances, the second on the fantastic time we had at the Mirage. Even though I didn't have a great time at Lucky Chances, it was interesting, so read on. But definitely tune in for my next post on the Mirage. The 3 days I played there were some of the best times I've had playing poker.

Saturday the 14th at Lucky Chances. After visiting with friends in Sacramento Friday night, we drove back into San Francisco Friday morning. I dropped B off at her conference at the San Francisco Hilton, then checked into the hotel were staying at a few blocks away. After settling in I headed back out, to return the rental car at the airport and then hop on the BART train down to the town of Colma.

It was a quick ride and I arrived in Colma around 2pm. The only thing that didn't go well was the weather -- I'd been to San Francisco once before, for the 4th of July, and it had been sunny then. I wasn't dressed appropriately for the fog and cool temperatures, and was a little cold as I waited at the Colma BART station for the shuttle to Lucky Chances. Fortunately I didn't have to wait long, and was at the cardroom by 2:30. Colma is an interesting town, by the way, that consists mostly of cemetaries. We passed about a dozen of them on the short ride form the station to the cardroom, along with a couple flower shops and headstone engravers.

Lucky Chances is a lot smaller than I expected (but then, I've been playing at Foxwoods), and has a very nice interior. The floor is divided by a nice raised walkway from which you can watch games going on. There are also some stools and a counter near the floor where you can eat lunch and watch the floor. This is a very smart design compared to Foxwoods, where there is a bar and hamburger grill very near the poker room, but not so near that you can really watch the poker action or hear your name called from the waiting list.

I put my name in for $3/$6, got lunch, and was seated by 3pm. Lucky Chances has chip runners, which was new for me. I worried briefly whether you're supposed to tip chip runners, then decided against it.

At my table, it was me and 8 middle-aged Asian men. The entire casino was mostly middle-aged Asian men. Not exactly party central, but what do I expect in the middle of the day. I looked around the table, trying to assure myself that I wasn't the biggest fish there--a couple guys were buying in for only $40 and then rebuying, so I decided I wasn't the worst player at the table. What a confidence-building thought! Yeah, right.

Lucky Chances has a weird structure where the button posts a live big blind. You take your $3 and place it physically on the plastic button. This goes to the house, and the pot is not otherwise raked. But there are 3 people already invested in the hand, instead of just 2. If you're thinking this would make for looser games, you're right.

At least 3/4 of pots were raised before the flop, and often reraised, with an average of 6-7 players seeing the flop. I'd just finished rereading Ed Miller's Small Stakes Texas Holdem on the plane, so I said to myself, OK, I can deal wioth a loose-aggressive game.

But to cold-call 2 bets you need reasonably good cards, and I wasn't getting them. I only played about 10 hands in the 2 hours I was there. (I had promised to meet B at 6pm for dinner, so I had to leave at 5pm. Really I just didn't leave myself enough time for poker, which is just as well.) I kept looking around for a better table, hoping the "fun crowd" would start to trickle in after 4:00, but it didn't happen.

Hmmm . . . not much else to say. There wasn't much conversation. Occasionally a player would demand a "new setup," which meant 2 new decks of cards. They would often do this after losing a hand, perpetuating the stereotype of the superstitious Asian. There were also a couple guys rudely flinging their cards at the dealer, which is behavior I'm unfortunately starting to be less surprised at.

I left at 5pm down $77, but get this--$10 of it was for 2 Heinekens I drank. You have to pay for your drinks! I don't know why I found that so suprising, but I did.

The shuttle to the BART station didn't leave for another 20 minutes, so I paid $7 for a cab ride. In the cab and on the BART station I have to admit to being in a pretty bad mood. I didn't care so much about losing, but Lucky Chances was a whole lot less fun than I'd hoped it'd be. The experience served to temper the intense jealousy I've always felt about the legal cardrooms in California. Maybe it was just the time of day, though--I wonder what the Lucky Chances crowd is like at night.

Sunday and Monday in San Francisco. No poker action to recount here. We visited with more friends and saw some sights. I had Crab Louie Salad at the Beach Chalet Restaurant in Ocean Beach, and Sunday night we got drinks at the Tonga Room at the Fairmount Hotel. Very nice. Monday we rode the cable car to Fisherman's Wharf and chowed down on more seafood.

Arriving in Las Vegas. The Monday night plane ride to Las Vegas got off the ground about 40 minutes late, but were psyched to be on our way there so we almost didn't mind. We stay at the Flamingo, for a variety of reasons, including the location and the pool. Plus since we have a history there we can usually get really good rates. Unfortunately we had an awful experience at the front desk checking in (I'll spare you the details), so we're going to stay somewhere else next time.

We had also been psyched to stay at the Flamingo because the new Margaritaville bar and restaurant opened there. (It had been under construction last time we were in Las Vegas, October 2003 when B and I got married.) We're parrotheads so after the un-fun check-in, we were psyched for a tropical drink. To our utter dismay, however, a DJ was playing really loud, really crappy hip hop music, so we walked over to the Mirage for our drink, then hit the hay.

We woke up in better spirits, and hit the pool. Also, Margaritaville mostly redeemed itself by playing the kind of music they're freakin supposed to for the rest of our time there.

And then we hit the Mirage, which deserves its own post. Hope to have that up by Monday!

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Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Vegas Hiatus
You know what cheers me up when I'm feeling shitty?
Rolled up aces over kings.
That right?
Yeah. Check-raising stupid tourists and taking huge pots off them.
Stacks and towers of checks I can't even see over. Playing all night, high limit hold'em at the Taj, where the sand turns to gold . . .
Fuck it, let's go.
Don't tease me.
Let's play some fucking cards.
Yep, I'm headed to Las Vegas (by way of San Francisco) tomorrow, and I'll quote a whole scene from Rounders if I want to. Let's just hope B and I don't play the role of the stupid tourists.

B has a work-related conference in San Francisco. We're visiting friends in Sacramento through Friday, then Saturday I am thinking of heading to the Lucky Chances cardroom while she confers. Monday night we fly to Vegas and are there through Thursday. We'll be back in Providence Friday morning the 20th, but then here's where we really push ourselves: Friday night my mom and my aunt are flying in to Providence, and Saturday morning we are headed up to Saratoga for a weekend at the races with B's dad.

Unfortunately this means I'll miss the upcoming blogger tourney, but I look forward to reading about it.

I probably won't be blogging again until the 23rd or 24th. I'm sure I'll be exhausted, but hopefully I'll have a hell of a lot of cheap thrills to recount!

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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Bob Ciaffone's Middle Limit Holdem Poker
Seeing as how my last order of poker books arrived about a month ago, and seeing as how I've already read most of them, I figured I should post about the oh-so-interesting thoughts I had on them before I forget.

The book that I was most looking forward to reading was Bob Ciaffone's Middle Limit Holdem Poker. Some of the reviews that persuaded me to buy this book were at Poker Chronicles--"Looking to beat games $15/$30 and above? Here is the best book on the subject."--and winningonlinepoker.com:
This book is geared at $10/$20 or higher games, but the advice can be very useful for lower limits as well. It is divided into chapters based on situation (betting round, action to you) and each chapter includes a short strategy section before launching into a series of questions where they describe your hand and how the betting has proceeded, and ask you to make a decision to check, bet, fold, call or raise in that situation. Although several of the plays are debateable, the book gives a lot of useful advice, which in many of the situations contradicts with how the typical player would play the hand.
I seem to remember more good reviews on other sites, but you get the idea.

I admit that I ordered this book as part of my overall move from .50/$1 to $2/$4. Many of the .50/$1 players on Paradise are way better than the $2/$4 players at Foxwoods, so I figured that maybe the $2/$4 games online might be comparable to live $10/$20 games. Of course, this was me being paranoid about the caliber of player I would encounter at $2/$4 online. In retrospect, it was silly of me to be thinking of $2/$4 as anything close to middle limits.

That said, I think the traditional categories of low, middle, and high limits are not that useful in the modern, post-WPT poker world. Lower limits at some online sites are comparable to higher limits at other sites, and lower limits online are generally comparable to higher limits in B&M cardrooms. I was talking to someone who recently moved up to $10/$20 at Foxwoods, and he said that the most suprising thing about moving up in limits is how little the quality of play changes. The fact is that you can find a wide variety of games conditions at most limits.

I have noticed some differences between .50/$1 and $2/$4. While there are plenty of loose $2/$4 games to be found online, there are also more tight-aggressive players in these games. There are fewer people seeing the pot and more people folding, and because of this there is more bluffing and blind-stealing. Ciaffone's book (actually co-authored with Jim Brier) helped me deal with these things.

Middle Limit Holdem Poker is more usefully described as a guide to playing in reasonably tight, somewhat aggressive games. In contrast, the book that many players consider to be the bible of Hold'em--Sklansky's Texas Hold'em for Advanced Players--seems to be geared toward very tight, very aggressive games, and the most beginner's books--including the one that I relied on most as a guide to .50/$1, Lee Jones's Winning Low-Limit Hold'em--are geared toward loose, somewhat passive games.

I found Ciaffone's book to be a great refresher course on how to play tight, solid poker. He covers the usual fundamentals--position, pot odds, etc.--but with more emphasis on reading your opponent's hand. One idea of his that I don't think has been developed elsewhere is his theory of flop play. Basically he says that a lot of players like to play deceptively on the flop, but they reveal how they really feel about their hands on the turn. This is in contrast to the straightforward style of play that he recommends and that I generally follow. Ciaffone's "trust the turn action more than the flop action" advice helped me recognize this type of trickster and stop a couple leaks in my game, such as giving too much credit to a flop raiser and being too willing to go to a showdown if I do stay past the flop (which is more usually correct in looser games where the pot sizes are larger). Of course these are things I'm still working on, but I like that Ciaffone gave me a new perspective on them.

Another section that stood out for me was the advice on playing from the blinds. It's a poker maxim that good players lose less money from the blinds, but most beginner's books give relatively short shrift to the subject (partly because defeding against blind steals isn't such a big part of loose games). Ciaffone devotes 5 pages to the subject, and those 5 pages have helped me immensely.

I would describe Middle Limit Holdem Poker as a practical, straightforward type of book. The tone throughout the book is "here's how I play this type of situation." This is in contrast to the Sklansky/2+2 books, which I would decribe as being more theoretical and complicated. Their tone is "you should make this play 40% of the time under these three conditions . . . " As their titles state, the 2+2 books are quite advanced, and I feel that Ciaffone's approach--which sticks to the fundamentals without treating the reader like a beginner--to be more appropriate for the stage I'm at.

Just a couple more notes on the format of the book. There are no subheads or white spaces breaking up the text, which is very unusual these days. Sometimes the authors switch topics with nothing but a paragraph break to indicate the change. It makes for very dense-looking pages, but fortunately the straightforward writing style offsets this.

A major feature of the book is the many test questions that follow each chapter. Whereas the 2+2 books mostly quiz you on the major themes covered in each section, Ciaffone gives you the hole cards, pot size, previous action, and board cards for a given situation, and asks you whether you should bet, call, raise, or fold. To my mind this is the best way for a how-to poker book to impart its teachings.

Finally, if it seems like most of my poker book reviews are very positive, it's true. My reviews are essentially recommendations, since I figure no one wants to read about a book that's mediocre or downright bad. Still, maybe sometime I'll post a quick list of all the books in my poker library that turned out to be disappointments, just for some perspective.

Not that they'd make that list, but I don't know if I'll be posting about Gary Carson's The Complete Book of Texas Hold'em and Skansky et al.'s Seven-Card Stud for Advanced Players. I enjoyed both books but they just didn't grab me the way that Ciaffone's did. It'll also take me a while to digest the 2+2 book. I'm halfway through Ciaffone and Reuben's Pot Limit & No Limit Poker, but the no-limit bug just hasn't bitten me yet.

Ed Miller's Small Stakes Texas Hold'em arrived last Friday, so that's what I'll be reading next.

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Commercial Free Speech
Attorney Barry Richard of Greenberg Traurig LLP, filed a federal lawsuit Monday on behalf of Louisiana-based Casino City Inc., alleging the government's year-old crackdown on advertising by Internet gambling Web sites was a violation of commercial free speech. [Link]
I really don't have much insight into these legal issues, but I've been wondering how long it would take for them to start making more headlines.

As much as I like the Poker Gazette for bringing these news articles together in once place, it's not cool that you can't determine their original source.

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Monday, August 09, 2004

Oh the People That You Meet in Your Casino, in Your Casino, in Your Cas-i-i-no
I was just reading my last post and it occurred to me that amidst my complaining about being thirsty at Foxwoods, I didn't really emphasize enough what a good time I had. Yeah, the lack of drink service annoyed me Saturday night, and I was kinda beat all day Sunday because of the lack of sleep, and no I'm not going to do it again anytime soon, but I really did enjoy myself for most of the 12 or so hours I spent at Foxwoods this weekend.

One of the main attractions of live play is the people you meet. This was the reason that B and I originally started enjoying gambling in Las Vegas 6 or 7 years ago--you end up sitting with some really colorful characters you wouldn't otherwise encounter. One of my favorite Vegas memories is sitting at a Binion's blackjack table at about 4am with a guy who must have been pushing 80, and having him explain to me how he keeps all his money in a casino credit line because he doesn't trust banks: "At the least the casinos tell you they're trying to take your money."

Anyway, there was one amusing guy I forgot to mention Saturday night, at $1-$3 Stud. He was a younger guy who looked like Vincent Pastore of The Sopranos might've when he was 27 years old. I didn't notice anything very unusual about his play except that twice he showed down with a full house that he said he thought was only 2 pair; he even checked it on the river both times. He wasn't drinking or noticeably intoxicated.

Anyway, he had a small entourage of 4 or 5 other guys who were playing various table games, and they kept stopping by and checking in with him. Around 12:30am or so they all come over, and start a big discussion about whether to stay at Foxwoods or head up to a strip club in Providence. And the guy who looks like Pastore says, completely deadpan, "I don't care what we do, but either way I have to leave at 5:30 to see a guy and pick up a thing." I almost laughed out loud, it just sounded too Mafia-esque. For the next 10 minutes I was distracted from both the game and my efforts to get the cocktail waitress's notice, because I was trying to evaluate whether 1) this guy could possibly be involved in organized crime, or unorganized crime, 2) whether he was just trying to appear like he was, or 3) he just liked to speak in bizarrely vague terms. I lean toward #3, because shortly afterwards their conversation shifted to fantasy baseball trade negotiations. No one can appear tough while talking about fantasy sports.

These are some of the things that entertain me between hands.

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Sunday, August 08, 2004

Low-Limit Stud at Foxwoods
As expected, against good judgement, and despite getting only 5 hours of sleep Saturday morning, I returned to Foxwoods Saturday night. I didn't get out the door until 7pm, which meant I didn't get to Foxwoods until 8pm, which was a mistake. The waiting lists were huge. Like many poker rooms, Foxwoods writes your initials on a whiteboard. They can fit about 50 names in a column before starting a new column. When I signed up for $2/$4 Hold'em I was at the bottom of the 3rd column. Doh!

I also signed up for $1-$3 7-Stud, and there were only (!) thirty or so names ahead of me on that list. While I was waiting I spotted Tommy Angelo again, playing $20/$40 Hold'em. I also watched the Little League World Series semifinals at the sports bar. I had a beer while I waited, and marveled that only one bartender was manning the bar, since he seemed near to overwhelmed. This proved to be a theme on the evening.

Anyway, my initials were called after an hour wait. (From now on I am leaving the house before 6pm when heading to Foxwoods on a weekend. Conversations with other players reinforced my feeling that 7pm is about when it really fills up.)

The $1-$3 7-Stud game at Foxwoods has no ante. From the house's perspective, I think it must be the single least profitable game in the entire casino. So I was able to sit there for free while I watched the first several hands.

Because of the exposed cards, I find 7-Stud a much more interesting game to watch when you're not in a hand. You can speculate at what people might have, what they are representing, and practice keeping track of which cards are dead. You can (and should) do all except that last part in Hold'em, but in Stud there's simply more cards to watch, as compared to the 5 on the board in Hold'em. It's mentally stimulating, and that appeals to the game player in me.

However, perhaps because of the concentration required, the players in 7-Stud seem to be a far less fun bunch than in Hold'em. On average, they're older, which would be no problem except that many of them are also quite dour. No half-drunk young WPT fans laughing it up as in Hold'em.

The play was basically atrocious, more so than in $2/$4 Hold'em. I know the typical low-limit game is supposed to go something like, "check, check, check, check, check, bet, call, call, call, call, call," but honestly most betting rounds in $2/$4 Hold'em at Foxwoods aren't that pathetic. There's usually raising, and sometimes there's folding. But at $1-$3 7-Stud there really were a lot of "check, check, check, call, call, call" rounds, and there was remarkably little folding. Almost everybody paid $1 to see 4th street, and often 4 or 5 players went to the end. When I had a premium pair I would raise it to $4, and that hardly deterred anyone. There were a ton of free cards being given out--it was pretty amazing to see 6 players check it through 2 streets in a row, and this happened again and again.

So I says to myself, OK, fair enough, this game is incredibly loose-passive. I can deal with that.

The first hand I play is split aces. I raise on 3rd street and bet $3 til 6th street, but don't improve. I check on 7th, and by this time I only have 2 opponents, and one, who had Bad Skin and Bad Teeth, bets. The other guy folds, I call. BSBT says "straight," and I look at his cards, so I can remember what kind of starting hand this guy had, but he doesn't turn them over. After a small moment he gets angry that I'm waiting on hime to show and he slams his cards over and semi-yells, "2-3-4-5-6-7!" This is as close to a real ugly confrontation as I've had so far in casino poker. I just shrug and say, "that's good," and show my aces.

I decided to embrace the less-than-friendly atmosphere. You know, poker is war and all that. Of course just as I decided this a very genial man sat down to my left and we started chatting about horseracing, evidently that's his main game and he only occassionally plays poker, and he tells me all about handicapping contests and such. Cool.

BSBT was a real jerk. He would be quiet for several hands at a time but when he said anything it was usually pretty nasty. He got into confrontations with the dealers over his rules infractions, and also made whining/accusatory comments over the bad cards he was being dealt. He never cursed or raised his voice too much, so it wasn't anything you could call the floorman about, it was just unpleasant. Happily he was on the other end of the table.

Several players made it clear that they were annoyed at me for betting draws. In one hand I had an Ace-high four-flush on 4th street and raised, then bet again on 5th and 6th streets with 4 callers, but didn't make it and 2 pair took the hand. They looked at me like I was crazy. I think I made only 1 or flushes the whole night, but I kept playing them that way. Many of the players seemed to have the kind of old-school "you should only bet when you're sure you have the best (made) hand" mentality that is largely absent from Hold'em. This mentality would explain all the checking. Two different players asked the dealer if check-raising was allowed.

This mentality was on display in a big hand that BSBT won. I wasn't in the hand, but most everyone else was. There's betting the whole way, and even some raising. At the end BSBT turns over rolled up sevens, and he of the eternal whining says, "I can't believe I had a good hand finally hold up!" The player to my right shows paired Aces with a busted flush and straight draw, then begins to justify his play to the table. "I had so many outs," blah blah, the kind of thing you just ignore, but BSBT won't have any of it: "You called me with that? Geez, you wasted your freaking money, pal, just completely wasted it." This goes on for a bit and I'm amazed at the complete switch BSBT just made--from being surprised that he wasn't outdrawn, to telling another player that there was no way he was going to be outdrawn. Oh, mercy.

Despite the bad play and BSBT, I was really enjoying myself, just kind of reveling in the seedy atmosphere. It also helped that I was winning. I bought in for $50 and at one point I was up to $80. Mostly I was just treading water, though, and with the large rake and high variance--and this being the first time I had really played 7-Stud in a casino--I was happy with that. Like I said in my last post, at these live low-limit games I'm playing more for the experience than for profit.

Unfortunately my good mood slowly turned sour due to a seemingly minor problem: Drink service to our table essentially stopped. At first I attributed it to the whole "single least profitable game in the entire casino" thing. Other players at the table complained to the floorman, and it became apparent that the whole poker room was understaffed in terms of wait service. The really frustrating part was that when I got up to go to the bar and pay full price for a beer, there was a huge wait--that one poor bartender was dealing with dozens of thirsty low-limit players!

By 11:30 the list for $1-$3 Stud had emptied (although there were still huge waits for Hold'em), and they broke our table up. This is the first time that's happened to me (I love all these little firsts). The new table was at the other end of the room, and I harbored some hope that a waitress might come by to this new table. At this point I was really quite thirsty, and just wanted some water. She took my order--two different times--but each time she came back with drinks she managed to give away all her waters and beers before getting back around to me.

It's amazing how a little thing like that can ruin a good time. Fundamentally, the casino experience is escapist entertainment--it's fun to feel like a "player" even when I know at heart I'm a low, low roller, and drink service is a part of that. Getting dissed by the cocktail waitress just sort of ruined the illusion that I was doing anything but playing a cheap game with other cheap people, all losing to the rake. Stewing at the waitress I started thinking about some of the other problems with Foxwoods and questioning why I wasn't at home playing online. How in the hell are they understaffed on a Saturday night? I played all night Friday night and didn't have one problem. I started thinking it was a wonder they have any drink service at all, considering the monopoly they have on casino poker in puritanical New England. I started thinking about how such a thing would never happen in Las Vegas, which was a pretty pointless thought, but once I started thinking like a Vegas snob it was hard to stop. I started questioning why I was risking my bankroll at crappy old Foxwoods when I'm headed for the "real thing" in ten days.

And while I was doing this pointless steaming I was losing. On three different hands I paid off a pudgy Asian kid to my right. His flush beat my Aces up, his straight beat my trip Kings, and his Aces-full boat beat my embrassingly low straight. He played each hand well, and by the second hand I should've learned to respect his raise, but I didn't. He was a nice guy, and after his third win I was joking with him about how he had my number. By this point I was just playing too aggressively overall. At 1:00, as the cocktail waitress came around with a rather maddening "last call for alcohol," I decided I'd had enough. Also I realized I was exhausted and that wasn't helping with my crankiness and tilt. I cashed out for $10, a $40 loss on the night. But honestly I could have left up $100 and I'd still be pissed about not being able to get a drink for 3 straight hours.

I guess I'm a little burned out on Foxwoods after two nights in a row, but despite my complaints there's no dout in my mind that I'll be heading back down eventually. What I'd really like to do is build the online bankroll (currently around $900) enough that I don't mind risking $160 at the Foxwoods $4/$8 game--that way there will be more of a possibility that I actually win enough to pay for the gas I use in getting there! I'd also like to play $5/$10 Stud (the lowest level that isn't spread limit), but that's farther off.

For now, I'm going to start looking forward to our upcoming San Francisco/Las Vegas trip. We leave on Thursday!

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Saturday, August 07, 2004

Getting Comfortable at Foxwoods
Once again, B (Mrs. Cheap Thrills) is out of town, and once again, I headed down to Foxwoods for a night of $2/$4 thrills.

It was my latest session by far. I was at the casino from 9pm to 4:30am, though I didn't get a seat at a table until about 10pm. Why did I do such a thing? Part of the reason is that I was very off-kilter yesterday. For no apparent reason I stayed up til 1am on Thursday night--I wasn't even playing online poker. Then I had to get up at 4:30am to drive B to the airport. So I was tired all day then took a too-long nap before finally getting down to Foxwoods.

But I had also wanted to do a later session at the casino. In my previous trips I've petered out around midnight, and I wondered if the play or atmosphere got a whole lot worse or different in the wee hours of the morning. The short answer: No. Most everyone's play is already terrible at $2/$4, and I didn't detect a major shift for the worse as the evening went on. Of course, I can only speak for my table.

I also blame the tame late-night atmosphere on the fact that Foxwoods has last call for alcohol at 1am. So after about 2am the drunks start sobering up or head home, and you're just left with tired people. Just another great thing about Las Vegas: The booze never stops flowing.

I also did the late session because my inner wannabe-badass wanted to player poker all night long and get a taste of what a true marathon session might be like. Well, now I can say that I played til the sun came up (OK, it came up as I was driving home), but I doubt I'll being doing such a late session again. My circadian rythms are incredibly out of whack.

Back to Foxwoods: I arrived at 9pm to find a huge line for tables. I had been thinking about playing 7-Card Stud for the first time in a casino, and the line for that was a bit shorter, so I signed up for $1-$5 Stud and $2/$4 Hold'em. I was called for Stud about an hour later.

There's a .50 ante for this game at Foxwoods. The bring-in is a buck and anyone can bet or raise between $1 and $5 on any street. Both of the books I have on Stud say that your strategy for such a spread limit game shouldn't be much different from a structured limit game, and that usually these games play similarly to structured games. I'm doubting the second part of that statement. To me it seemed like everyone was either betting/raising the maximum amount too often. I think this is primarily because they were loose aggressive players, and also because everyone had mostly $5 chips and didn't want to be saying "raise $2," etc., and having to get change, for fear it would be a huge sign of weakness.

Whatever the case, I had assumed the low-limit Stud games at Foxwoods would be too loose-aggressive for my tastes and I was right. I only played a dozen or so hands, in which time I did not get a single playable starting hand, so all I lost was $10 in antes and bring-ins. I may try the $1-$3 game, which has no antes, just to see if I can get a handle on these loose games.

By 10:30pm my initials were called for $2/$4 Hold'em.

I instantly relaxed after sitting down at the game I'm more familiar with. However, the not-a-single-playable-hand pattern continued. I got a lot of starting hands in which both cards were below 7, ugh. I started thinking pointless things like, "Wow, 53 offsuit three times in a row, that's interesting." I need to remember that the first half-hour at the table, when I'm all pumped to play but haven't actually been dealt a real hand, is totally my "danger zone." It was 11:10 (I noted the time) before I played a hand. I lost a bit on my first couple hands, I forget what they were but I know that I was factoring large implied odds and backdoor outs into my decisions to play, and that always costs me money. I was trying to loosen up to take advantage of the loose-passive table and it wasn't working. Online, though I may be on the road to rock-dom, I find that tighter play always works best for me.

Then for some reason I paid the extra $1 to play 52s out of the small blind. I flopped 2 pair and lost to the button, who had 56s. Some how I had knocked myself down to twenty-some dollars out of my starting $100. (Well, $10 of that was the Stud antes, $1 of it was for a drink, and $1 if went to the Stud dealer when I abruptly left his table.) I have never dropped $70 so quickly in online play. I decided I was playing like an idiot, got another $100 in chips, and resolved to play my normal tight game.

From that point on I started really enjoying myself. I chatted up the guy on my right, who was in the area for a wedding the next day. His father was also seated at the other end of the table, and they were calling each other's bluffs and really enjoying themselves. It was nice to see. There was also a very amiable woman to his right, who was playing very solid poker. She was handicapped, which I mention only because it made me think about how I'd love poker more than I already do if a lot of other activities in life were denied to me.

The guy to my left was also very nice, although he was a a semi-maniac. He played almost every pot and raised preflop about half the time. He was more passive post-flop, but often called to the river with any piece of the flop. Seeing as how I wasn't playing many hands, I kept watching him trying to understand what his rationale for pre-flop raising could possibly be. I never really found a pattern, but I did find an obvious tell--he would take chips into his hand before it was his turn turn to act, 1 if he was going to call and 2 if he was going to raise. I felt like Sherlock Holmes spotting that one, and boy did it help me out.

There was another maniac at the table playing and raising every hand, but he kept getting up every five minutes, and would sometimes be gone for two or more entire dealer shifts. A couple people complained that his seat should have been forfeit but the dealers never bothered. Turns out he was leaving to go play single-table super-satellites to the Foxwoods WPT event, which he kept getting busted out of fairly quickly :)

My constant folding became a bit of a joke at the table. Around midnight I finally won a pot, and I got some semi-mocking applause. That marked a turning point as decent cards started to come with soem regularity. At one point I flopped quad fives, which was nice. I also won with a couple other good hands, and later in the evening I actually won a couple pots uncontested. I was pretty lucky in that I didn't experience any awful river beats.

About 2-ish the game started to get less fun, as I described above. Most of the jovial players left and a more somber crows remained. The maniac who had been playing satellites was still around, though, and so everyone was trying to get his money. He was quite drunk by this point and it got a little ugly a couple times. Two things I noticed here: 1) I was proud of myself for not letting the maniac put me on tilt, which has been a problem for me in the past, and 2) I think the thing I like least about maniacs is how they can sometimes ruin the mood of a table. Granted, the people getting most upset at this maniac were not fun to begin with, whining about the bad cards and such, but the maniac wasn't helping.

At 2:20am I'm pretty sure (85 percent) that I spotted Tommy Angelo at the chip cage. I recognized his face from his website and because I recently bought his CD of poker songs. That marks my first sighting of a Gen-U-Wine poker professional.

At about 3:30am I made it back up to $180 (out of a total $200 buy-in) and began trying to decide whether I should head home or try to win 1 or 2 more pots so I'd have an actual profit on the day. Prudence prevailed, as I realized that even if I won one more huge pot, I still wouldn't be able to show a very big win rate for the 6-hour session. I finally left at 4am with $173 out of my initial $200. With the rake, the experiment with Stud, and the $15-$20 I paid in tips to the dealers and cocktail waitresses, I figure I held my own on the evening. If I had really wanted to build the bankroll, I should have stayed home and played online.

Yep, for me, $2/$4 at Foxwoods is not fundamentally about profit, but about getting live casino experience, and I definitely did that last night. It was the most comfortable and relaxed I've ever been at the table. That bodes well for my upcoming trips to Las Vegas, in mid-August and in September.

After those Vegas trips I think I'll take the plunge and try $4/$8. I know the level of play will be similar, but before the Vegas trips I don't want to risk my bankroll at the higher limit.

I'm still trying to decide whether I'll head down for some more $2/$4 tonight. Reasons not to go: 1) I am tired, 2) I can win more playing online, 3) I am being results-oriented and want to bag a win tonight so I can say I had a live-play profit on the weekend. Reasons to go: 1) It'll be fun, 2) If I don't go I'll just end up playing online, 3) I think I can bag a win tonight and show a live-play profit on the weekend. My early prediction is that prudence isn't going to win 2 in a row; I'll let you know how it turns out.

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Friday, August 06, 2004

Rake-Free Poker Sites: Not Gonna Catch On
Iggy's got an exceptionally educational post up today, providing some background on the Dutch Boyd-Rakefree.com fiasco that happened a few years back.

Although PokerSpot predates my involvement in online poker, I was aware of the controversy surrounding Dutch Boyd becuse I sifted through the RGP archives to find out about it. I used to read RGP all the time--before I discovered the poker blog community. There's so much better writing coming from the bloggers, and so much less flaming, whining, shilling, and lying than on RGP. Now I hardly ever visit RGP, instead relying on Iggy and others to bring me the highlights. (Thanks Iggy!)

Somewhere in the middle of Iggy's uber-post he sums up something that I think bears repeating. I was going to post on this topic sooner or later; now Iggy's hit the nail on the head in 2 sentences:
A rake free site is a wonderful idea for the hardcore players out there. But it won't attract the fish. I want to play the fish, not the guy who is aware of rake and it's implications upon his earn rate. Think this through...geepers.
This is what I think whenever I hear someone talk about what a great deal rake-free poker would be. Everyone focuses so much on how DB mishandled the operation of PokerSpot, it's useful to think about what a problematic idea his new Rakefree.com is to begin with.

Now the idea's back with Zerorake.com. I guess DB's certainly not the only one thinking this rake-free thing is a good idea. I just can't believe it, but then again, I'm a low-limit player, and believe that most of my money is made from my opponents' mistakes. To that end, I like playing with players who are worse than me, i.e., fish. To my understanding most fish are casual players who would not want to pay an up-front monthly fee to play online poker. Or at least this is how it is at low limits.

I guess it's possible that there are players out there for whom the cost of the rake truly more than offsets the action they get from casual players. I guess it's also possible that there are enough poor players who think they're good enough to hang with more knowledgeable players that they could provide a decent amount of action at a rake-free site. I assume that's how the high-stakes games in Las Vegas are funded--by players who think they can beat the next level but really can't. I guess I could go read RGP if I really wanted to get a wide range of opinions on the issue :) Either way, it seems like rake-free isn't for me or the majority of poker players.

What I'd like to see instead is the major poker sites get into "rake wars" with each of them offering lower and lower percentage-of-the-pot rake tables. But this would probably only happen in a big way if the current poker boom subsides, and I prefer not to dwell on that possibility :)

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If You've Got the Time, the Money, and the Will . . .
Two posts ago I threw out my 2 cents on The Crew and the way ESPN is setting them up as bad guys; today Otis on Up for Poker threw out a good solid quarter, exploring the link between televised tourney poker and reality TV, and detailing the manufacture of "poker villains."

In this post I'd like to follow up with a few more thoughts on The Crew and big-time tourney poker.

The Crew is annoying, but while I can call them "annoying young braggarts," I can't really knock their poker abilities. I'm a lowly seeker of cheap thrills grinding it out at $2/$4; The Crew is in there playing with the big boys and winning WSOP bracelets.

And yet we the poker audience are still a bit disappointed when a known superstar doesn't win--and when the previous unknown who does win doesn't seem to have the makings of a superstar. How does a Scott Fischman or a James Vogl win a WSOP bracelet? They seem to lack the toughness of a T.J. Cloutier, the braniac quality of a Howard Lederer, the intensity of a Phil Ivey, the unpredictability of a Gus Hansen. In fact, they pretty much remind me of most of the wanna-be twenty-to-thirty-somethings I see down at Foxwoods (and I include myself and several of my friends in that description).

The answer struck me when ESPN was once again showing that much-maligned clip of The Crew strutting down a sunny suburban street: These guys are really into poker. If you're thinking, "well so am I," brother I sympathize. I wouldn't be sitting here blogging about poker if I didn't love the game. But these Crew guys seem committed in a way that most of us just aren't.

Some of it is the energy and drive--and free time--of youth. Simply not having kids is a big advantage to the aspiring poker player, just because of the extra time one has in a day. Another factor is money. I have no idea what the economic backgrounds of most of The Crew are, but I assume they are similar to Dutch Boyd's, which is well enough off. But mostly these guys have just made poker a very high priority in their lives.

Time and money are two resources that benefit any type of student. Add in some smarts and a true devotion to improving your game, and that may be enough to give you a good shot at winning a major tournmanent. This truth detracts from the mystique of the big-time tourneys, but it's part of the democratic aspect of poker: Anyone can play the game, anyone can read Super/System and countless other books and begin to understand what the pros understand, and anyone with the cash can sit down and challenge those pros. Practice and persistence can get you a win. This is different from tennis or golf, where Mother Nature and a series of qualifying events keep most amateurs out of the big pro events. Given enough time to develop one's game, and the will to do it, it seems that most reasonably intelligent, disciplined people can become very good poker players.

I started this post about Fischman, but the person who best demonstrates my little "time, money, and commitment" theme is Ben Affleck. I was very much not surprised to hear he'd won the California State Poker Championship. (I found his rise from the "asshole from Fashionable Male" in Mallrats to co-star to Bruce Willis in Armaggedon far more shocking, and ultimately inexplicable.) Ben Affleck is a young, single, white male, and thus fits the poker demographic perfectly. Yes, he's rich and famous, but that basically means he's got the time and resources to pursue whatever interests him. It's not unusual that he's a celebrity interested in poker but that he's a celebrity truly committed to poker. In the most recent issue of Cardplayer, Mike Sexton talks about how he plays with Ben Affleck in a relatively high-stakes home game, with Affleck occasionally flying from coast-to-coast on his private jet to fit in both work and poker. He's also hired Annie Duke and other pros for lessons.

My point is not to take anything away from Affleck or Fischman, just to suggest that these players succeeded because they devoted a lot of time and energy into bettering their game, so it shouldn't be so surprising that they've bagged wins. In that sense, their success is inspirational.

We should expect to see more tournament winners who don't have the grit or manic genius that's associated with the the archetypical poker pro. We should expect to see more celebrities, since they have the time and money to spend on improving their game. For example, Tobey Mcguire recently placed 15th at the Mirage WPT event, and semi-celebrity Jim Rose has evidently "turned pro." (That could make for a fun little lottery--trying to pick which poker-playing celebrity will be the next to win a major tournament.) Same goes for wealthy eccentrics (the poker world already has independently wealthy pros Phil Gordon and Paul Phillips). And of course there will be countless obsessive players like Fischman and the rest of the Crew dedicated to beating the established pros, and Internet players like Fossilman and Moneymaker holding regular jobs while pursuing their dream.

On a final note, I'll add that, though tournament poker is not really my thing, it's televised tournament poker that seems to have motivated many of the new breed of players. In my ongoing exploration of the "why play poker" question, I keep coming back to the themes of fun, competition, and profit. For the big-time tourneys, there's obviously the possibility of instant fame, or at least fame within the ever-expanding poker community. Fame and respect probably aren't considerations for the majority of poker players, or even for a lot of pros, but they are probably factors for some of these really committed new-breed types I've been discussing. The Crew at least, with their vow to "take over the world," have made it apparent that they're in it for attention as much as anything. For me, that's part of their non-appeal.

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Thursday, August 05, 2004

Celebrity Poker Showdown
I think tonight's Celebrity Poker Showdown has been one of the best. Hank Azaria, two SNL cast members, and comedian Jeff Ross being pretty funny, along with much-too-serious-by-comparison actress Gail O'Grady. And aside from Jeff Ross, they're not playing too atrociously either.

Did anybody else catch early on when Phil Gordon said that Hank Azaria hires Robert Thompson (the Celebrity Poker Showdown tournament director) to officiate tourneys at his home game? Man that would be cool.

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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The WSOP Razz Event on ESPN
I just got through watching the WSOP Razz event on ESPN, and for whatever reason several post ideas started percolating in my head. At least 1 or 2 of them deserve their own longer posts. For now let me throw out some unrelated thoughts:

1) I was surprised at the negative way they portrayed Razz, since I was hoping that the ESPN coverage of games other than Hold'em would bring more players to these games. I was even getting annoyed at ESPN for a while--and I was particularly wondering how upset or disapponted Felicia and like-minded Razz players were with the Razz-bashing. But once the players at the table started trashing the game, I realized why ESPN went with the coverage they did. I guess Razz is a frustrating game, and that's why it's so unpopular, but still, it's never good to have the TV dissuading new players from trying a new form of poker.

2) Great to see T.J. Cloutier beat out Dutch Boyd. I particularly admired T.J.'s class at the end when Dutch Boyd looked at his bracelet, and T.J. said something like "Don't worry, you'll win plenty of them." Do you think Dutch would have been as respectful of his opponent if he'd won? The class level is partly an age thing, and my point is not to Dutch-bash (that's in #3 below). Kudos to T.J.

3) Of course Dutch Boyd and the crew are annoying as hell. I feel silly quoting myself, but as I wrote in a comment on Flopped the Nuts, "Dutch Boyd was already annoying. Now he has sycophants." Two sub-points here:
   1) We are all buying in to the poker "story" that ESPN has created through editing, commentary, and player-profile segments. They have painted The Crew as a bunch of annoying young braggarts, and we are all rooting against them. Now, The Crew certainly do seem like a bunch of annoying young braggarts, but let's not forget the drama that ESPN is actively trying to create. In bitching about The Crew we're having exactly the water-cooler conversation ESPN hoped for.
   2) The worst part of The Crew is the lame gay way they root for each other from the rail. If you were in a ring game and 3 jackasses were clapping and yelling every time one guy at the table won a hand, I think that sooner or later the the entire table would be berating, cursing, threatening, and otherwise working to silencing the cheerleaders, while also engaging in unspoken collaboration against the cheer-ee. But in televised tourney poker, lame dorky cheerleading just makes for more drama.

I've got a few more thoughts on the Crew but I'm gonna save it for another post. I've got 3 whiskeys in me and it's time for bed.

Oh yeah, in case anyone was interested in how I did at Saratoga--I lost $53. Not a single bet I made came in. No biggie money-wise, it was just depressing that I read a book on handicapping and wasn't able to pick a winner. Seems like a case of "I learned just enough to realize how very much I don't know." I also got a little insight into how many poker players win money at poker, then lose it betting on sports or the horses. Still, I'm looking forward to heading back up to Saratoga for the weekend of the 28th. Also, when B and I got back on Sunday, I sat down at Paradise $2/$4 7-Stud and won $120 in about and hour and a half. That certainly helped me feel less upset about the $53 wasted on the ponies :)

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