Category: WSOP

17 blackjack beginner boo-boos, part two

I’ve been a bit slow in doling these out, but here at last are a few more tips to keep in mind.

Error #7: Not splitting

What is splitting? It’s when you are dealt two identical cards (two 8s, two kings, etc.) and then increase your bet by splitting those identical cards into two separate hands. If you do this correctly, it’s another rule that can give you an advantage over the house. You can consult a basic strategy table, which I’d strongly recommend if you plan to play more frequently in the future; there are a number of variations on which cards you’d split versus the dealer’s particular up-card. But for now here’s a very simple rule about splitting.

Always split aces and eights. Always.

Not complicated. Memorize it.

Splitting aces and eights and eights in blackjack.
To split or not to split: There’s only one answer…

The thinking boils down to this: Two aces is a terrible hand, adding up as either two or twelve. Two 8s are awful, too, since they add up to the bane of your blackjack existence, 16. By splitting, you can turn these awful hands into an advantage. Your aces have a shot at giving you blackjack twice; your 8s can yield an 18 or better; plus if you catch a 2 or a 3 to go with your 8, you can double-down.

Error #8: Splitting 10s

You know that scene in the original “Frankenstein” movie, where the villagers chase the monster with their fiery torches, then burn the poor fellow to death? Many of you might be under the impression that the villagers were so worked up because he threw that cute little girl into the well.

Wrong.

They’re chasing him because he committed an even worse crime: He split 10s at the local casino. (This was a scene edited from James Whales’s original cut of the film.)

 

Splitting tens in blackjack.
Suffer a fiery death if you split these two cards or any two cards, for that matter.

Split 10s and you’ll gain the enmity of everyone at the table and for good reason: It’s a stupid move. An exception: When you’re counting cards, there is a set of specific instances when it’s actually a smart move. But for our purposes, do not do this. Why?

To clarify, we’re talking about any two cards valued at 10: King/Queen, 10/Jack, etc. And no matter how you slice it, 20 is a great blackjack hand. When you split 10s, you’re putting yourself in an excellent position to draw a worse hand. Plus you’ve altered which cards the dealer will draw; often the dealer will end up with a better hand than he might have had you not made that idiotic split; often he’ll draw to one that beats you and your table mates. They will hate you. If they have torches, you might very well suffer the fate of the monster.

Error #9: Not doubling down

Okay, it can be expensive. But doubling down is potentially the most profitable move you can make at the blackjack table.

Here’s how it works. After the dealer finishes dealing the initial round of two cards to each player and it’s your turn to act, you can double your bet by sliding the appropriate amount of chips forward. The dealer then gives you one, and only one, additional card; after the other players have acted and the dealer takes his card or cards, if you beat this total, you’ve doubled that initial bet.

Theoretically you can double down on any two cards. Players do actually double-down on blackjack; don’t. In all practicality, there are only several conditions when you’ll want to (and I command you to) double down.

  • When your two cards total 11. Many times you’ll draw a 10, giving you an unbeatable hand.
  • When your two cards total 10, and the dealer’s face-up card is a nine or less.
  • When your two cards total 9 and the dealer is showing a six. This move is designed to exploit his (hopefully) weak hand.

In many casinos, you can double down after splitting. This can be the juiciest and most fun you can have at the BJ table. Here’s a classic, fasten-on-your-seatbelt scenario.

  • You draw two 8s and split them.
  • Your first 8 draws a 3. Time to double down! Time to move on to your second 8…
  • Your second 8 draws an 8. Split them!
  • Back to that second 8 which draws a…. 3. Double down!
  • Onto the third eight which draws an…8. Time to split ‘em.
  • Back to the third 8, which draws a… 3. Double down!
  • Back to the fourth 8, which draws a 3. Double down again!

Yikes! If your initial bet was $10, you’ve just won $80! (The voice of reality: “Or lost $80.”)

Error #10: Starting out with an insufficient bankroll

You need to have enough money to finance potentially profitable moves such as the example directly above; you literally wouldn’t be able to do it with just $50 in your pocket. So how large of a bankroll do you need?

In deciding, you need to ask yourself (a) how much you can comfortably afford to lose and (b) how long you want to play. In answering that second question, keep in mind that this is a very fast-paced game. At a full table, the dealer doles out a complete round of cards at the rate of about one hand per minute. If it’s just you and the dealer (an excellent way to play, BTW) you can easily triple that rate. So if you want to hang around for more than ten minutes, you need to have ample funds at your disposal. My recommendation is to have at least fifty times the minimum bet. That would be $250 if you’re playing a $5 table, double that for a $10 table, etc. Not only will those amounts give you some staying power, they’ll also give you a much better chance of actually winning.

More to come next time…

Oh, happy gambling movies, #3

Before he become a worldwide heartthrob, Clive Owen was dealing blackjack as the title character in the 1999 film, “Croupier.” This is a crackerjack film noir for players and non-players alike; it’s light on the arcane dialogue and thick on atmosphere, characterization and intrigue.

By David de la Luz from Mexico City, Mexico (Clive) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Clive Owen: Who says blackjack is a dead-end job?
Owen plays a writer with casino experience in his past. Once ensconced as a croupier, he gets involved in a plot to separate the casino from some of its money.

So this film blends elements of an art film, a heist movie, a con movie and noir. It all comes together in a very satisfactory way, thanks to the brooding Owen and director Mike Hodges, known for his brutal and brilliant “Get Carter,” the original version starring Michael Caine.

Plus get this: It actually has an upbeat ending, winding up in a place quite unexpected.

Rating: 5 nuts (on a one-to-five scale)

Casino Buffet

A little wrist action

Now that Apple is launching the Apple Watch, a host of questions arrive along with it. Can you legally wear it while driving? Will anybody actually purchase the deluxe $12,000 model? And most importantly, will the Apple Watch be useful in playing poker? Here’s an answer, kind of: Tips on your wrist.

“Dad loves blackjack…”

It’s rare that you come across a written piece that centers around gambling and tugs at the heart strings, but New York Times Op-Ed writer Frank Bruni has written one that does just that. Read it here: “My Father’s Secret.”

WSOP schedule

The 2015 World Series of Poker recently announced its schedule. Lots of changes are in the offing, like bigger starting stacks and new tournaments, including one named “$565 Colossus No-Limit Hold’em”; it’s being played on May 29 and has a $5,000,000 guaranteed prize pool. Expectations are high for this one. The WSOP folks are saying that, in terms of participants, they expect it to be the largest poker tournament ever held, meaning upwards of a gargantuan 7,000 players.

The action begins to wind down July 5 with day one of the Main Event. If you’re one of the fortunate nine to reach the final table on this granddaddy of big-time poker tourneys, you’re guaranteed to take home at least $1,000,000.

Oh happy gambling films, where art thou?

The schedule for the Portland International Film Festival was recently announced. It’s an annual event to which Portlandia cineastes look forward with great anticipation. This year’s PIFF looks to be another winner; the team that puts this event together does a wonderful job of cherry-picking the most intriguing obscure pictures from all over the world.

One particular film fits within the central topic of this blog. It’s called “The Gambler,” and here is how it’s described in the PIFF schedule:

“A celebrated paramedic, Vincentas, has a dangerous addiction: gambling. Desperate to hit it big and pay off his mounting debts, he’s quick to place a bet on just about anything. In over his head, he ups the ante by betting on the odds of his own patients’ survival. This twisted game, played with his fellow paramedics, soon becomes a major enterprise after the hospital’s doctors and nurses want in on the action, and Vincentas finds himself becoming a big-time bookie. Jonynas’ gimlet-eyed black comedy is this year’s Lithuanian submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. “

A Lithuanian dark comedy? About a gambling paramedic? Betting on the survival of patients? YES! Can’t wait. Not kidding.

The synopsis of this movie brings up an interesting question: Why are gambling films, generally speaking, so damn grim? As a case in point, take a look at “Hard Eight,” the first full-length film from Paul Thomas Anderson, a terrific director who went on to make “Magnolia,” “Boogie Nights, “There Must Be Blood,” “The Master,” and the current “Inherent Vice.”

Many directors cut their teeth on low-budget horror films; Anderson chose a different kind of horror, the kind where your immortal soul has been replaced by the voracious desire to earn casino comps.

Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
“Mr. Reilly Goes To Reno” aka “Hard Eight”
The cast of this movie, released in 1996, is stacked with A-caliber talent just waiting for their trip to the big leagues.

John C. Reilly plays John, a broke, down-on-his-luck, kinda dimwitted neophyte gambler who, by the time the movie begins, has lost all his money. Philip Baker Hall is Sydney, a seasoned pro who, for a reason not revealed until the third act, takes John under his wing and shows him how to play the house for freebies.

Gwyneth Paltrow appears as a prostitute who hooks up with John. Samuel L. Jackson plays a vicious baddie who meets with a sad end. And there’s unintended poignancy when Philip Seymour Hoffman shows up in a cameo role as a craps player.

It’s all about The Education of a Gambler until about halfway through, when the film takes a hard right and turns into a crime drama. And not the “Oceans Eleven” kind of crime drama. Despite justice prevailing and the bad getting their due (more or less) no one in “Hard Eight” is very happy.

If you took a swig of Early Times every time someone in this film cracks a smile, you’d be stone-cold sober by the time the final credits roll.

BTW, IMDB has a list called “100 Best Gambling and Poker Movies” which is a nice resource, although I’d quibble with some of the inclusions. “The Sting”? “Cool Hand Luke”? “Atlantic City”?

 

Casino Buffet

Grinding it out

Keep your eyes peeled for a serious new gambling film, “Mississippi Grind,” which made its debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn star, with Mendelsohn giving what’s being described by critics as a breakthrough performance.

"Ben Mendelsohn (8019231435)" by Eva Rinaldi from Sydney Australia - Ben MendelsohnUploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ben_Mendelsohn_(8019231435).jpg#mediaviewer/File:Ben_Mendelsohn_(8019231435).jpg
Mendelsohn in “Mississippi”: His breakout role?

Here’s the plot summary as it appears on IMDB and Metacritic:

“Down on his luck and facing financial hardship, Gerry teams up with younger charismatic poker player, Curtis, in an attempt to change his luck. The two set off on a road trip through the South with visions of winning back what’s been lost.”

Well, at least they’re not betting on the survivability of EMT patients, so perhaps this one has an uplifting, inspirational ending, like “Rocky.” But in a card room.

 

Christmas in May

And June. And July.

Yes, poker mavens, the World Series of Poker has announced its upcoming schedule. It seems that the tournament director(s) and marketing department have not been slumbering since the Main Event wound up in November.

They’re launching a bunch of changes—such as giving players more bang for their buck in the form of larger starting stacks—and some new events, the most staggering of which would seem to be a tournament the WSOP is calling “The Colossus”: a buy-in of $565 and a prize pool of $5,000,000!

 

Chaos at Full Tilt

Many players were burned when Full Tilt was hammered by the Feds in 2011. In the months following, details emerged about the operation’s unsavory financial practices. And now this: Unsavory and stupid.

"Erick Lindgren 2007" by Photos by flipchip / LasVegasVegas.com - http://www.lasvegasvegas.com/pokerblog/archives/006040.php. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Erick_Lindgren_2007.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Erick_Lindgren_2007.jpg
Recipient of an cool extra $2,000,000

In April 2011, Full Tilt agreed to lend poker star Erick Lindgren $2,000,000. So they deposited the money into Lindgren’s account…TWICE! Lindgren kept the extra $2million—a questionable decision—and now the current owners of Full Tilt are suing him to get it back.

Kind of hard to pick a dog in this fight, wouldn’t you say?

 

 

 

Meet the killer who invented the World Series of Poker

Ah, autumn.

‘Tis the season for pumpkin picking and hot apple cider, for long drives through the color-shifting countryside, and for parking yourself in front of the TV for ESPN’s coverage of the World Series of Poker’s Main Event.

Beginning September 28, the network serves up two weekly hours of WSOP programming through the beginning of November, at which point the final table—a.k.a. the November Nine—reconvenes for a slugfest which grosses each player a minimum of $700,000.

But how to fill those empty WSOP-less hours between Sundays? Well, duh, you could actually play poker. Or if you want to engage in a more edifying activity, you might curl up with “Blood Aces,” Doug J. Swanson’s superb, highly entertaining new biography of WSOP founder Benny Binion.

It’s got the feel of a classic. Meticulously researched and told with verve and a sly sense of "Blood Aces" coverhumor, it’s a genre-buster, a gambling saga that will appeal to fans of true crime, to casino denizens, and to anyone interested in a tasty slice of 20th century history.

If you’ve strolled along Fremont Street, Binion is a familiar name thanks to his Horseshoe Casino, a seedy relic from the 1950s. It’s widely known that Binion started the World Series of Poker at the Horseshoe, but I’m guessing that few players know the whole story of the man behind the casino. Swanson remedies that big time, painting a vivid portrait of the nicest man you’d ever want to kill you.

“Binion had long resembled a doughy rural-route cherub,” writes Swanson in the book’s Prologue, “at least until he wanted somebody dead, which happened with some frequency. Then his grin fell away and his darting blue eyes went hard. ‘No one in his right mind,’ the great poker player Doyle Brunson once said, ‘messed with Benny Binion.’”

The book follows Binion’s path from sickly child to horse trader to Dallas gambling kingpin to Vegas hotelier-casino operator. This path was unimpeded by the fact that he was semi-literate (he stalled out in second grade), that his arrest became a top priority of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, and that he eventually was brought to justice for the crime of tax evasion and did time at Leavenworth, an event that Swanson chronicles with typical wryness:

‘Prison Doors Clank Shut on Benny Binion,’ said a front-page headline in the Nevada State Journal. ‘Interesting Career Interrupted by Uncle Sam.’ This proved that somewhere in Reno a copy editor had the gift of understatement.

By This image is part of University of Nevada at Las Vegas Special Collections on the World Series of Poker. Permission was given by David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research, to use any materials from this site in accordance with the GFDL. (http://gaming.unlv.edu/WSOP/Binionphoto.html) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Benny Binion and daughter Becky in front of the Horseshoe’s famous million-dollar display.
Described by Swanson as “a sort of Will Rogers of mobsters,” Binion was forced to flee from Texas to Nevada after his lucrative gambling operation in Dallas collapsed and the powers that be made it clear that his life was in jeopardy. By the time he arrived in Las Vegas, “The city had entered the public consciousness as a criminal wild game preserve—or, more aptly, an adult amusement park—with an unmatched collection of murderous rogues reborn as legitimate businessmen, free to roam the streets.”

He fit right in and thrived, rising to the status of respected civic leader. Eventually heart ailments slowed him down, but did nothing to squelch his… well, let’s call it spunkiness. To wit:

Although a nurse now accompanied him when he traveled, he still kept a .22 handgun in his pocket… because no one knew when an eighty-year-old man with a nurse at his side might encounter a gunfight.

By the time Binion cashed in his proverbial chips, he’d done a stint as an FBI informant (a tidbit that Swanson reveals for the first time) and had become a pillar of Vegas society thanks to his generous civic donations. Hell, they even erected a statue of the man.

Today the WSOP, which Binion kicked off in 1970 with just a handful of players, attracts thousands of players and is operated by Caesar’s Entertainment, as squeaky clean a gambling enterprise as Binion’s was dirty. In light of this revealing new overview of the WSOP’s genesis, will ESPN acknowledge the tourney’s unsavory roots? I’m betting they will. The story is just too damn compelling.

As Swanson writes, “There is simply no one who went from murderous street thug to domineering crime boss to revered businessman to civic treasure like Benny Binion. No one comes close.”

It’s a one-of-a-kind tale and–along with Positively Fifth Street, Cowboys Full, and The Biggest Game in Town–deserves a place on the shelf reserved for gambling books that, through sheer storytelling verve, transcend the limitations of their genre.

Casino Buffet

“Lost in Translation,” casino edition

"Pachinko parlour" by MichaelMaggs - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pachinko_parlour.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Pachinko_parlour.jpg
Paging Bill Murray… Photo by Michael Maggs, Wikimedia Commons.

Pachinko, anyone?

Turns out the Japanese game–which combines elements of pinball and roulette–is making a comeback. Hurray!

What? You didn’t realize that the game had been fading in popularity because of its ties to the yakuza and its lack of appeal to Japan’s young folk? Or that three-quarters of pachinko parlor owners are ethnic Koreans? Or that pachinko’s rebound is considered big news at The New York Times?

Well, get with it! Here’s a link to the recent Times article that will will turn you into a sparkling conversationalist the next time that the subject of pachinko comes up at a party.

Banking on lotteries

Who says lotteries are evil? Enterprising credit unions are actually using the lottery concept as a way to induce low-income families to sock away some dough. And it’s working!

I’m all for it, although I humbly suggest that we should draw the line when your local bank starts rolling out blackjack tables into the lobby.

The failure of persistence

“Energy and persistence,” said Ben Franklin, “conquer all things.”

All things apparently, except for the Mohegan Sun casino.

Despite his stick-to-it-iveness, Bruce Koloshi of Summit, NJ, just couldn’t make his card-marking scheme work.

It sounds clever enough. Kolshi used invisible ink to mark the cards in a casino game called Mississippi Stud and special contacts to view the markings.

Only problem was he’d been caught twice before, in Delaware and Louisiana, so the jig was pretty much up by the time he arrived in Connecticut with his bottle of magic ink. Security had his photo and… well, read about it here.

And thanks to my old buddy Don Elustando for bringing this story to my attention.

Monetizing “Nuts”?

Last post, I wrote about some of the odd search terms that have led readers to this site. “Human nuts being cold” struck a deep chord with a bunch of SCN fans, none more so than poker pal Matthew Douglas, who emailed me suggesting that I sell cozies to monetize visitors.

“Cold nuts?” Matthew wrote. “No problem: Doug’s stone cold nut cozies only $19.95.”

As you read this, a small factory in Beijing is ramping up production.

Poker genius or certified nutcase?

And finally, I am humiliated nauseated delighted and proud to introduce you to “Cigarillo” Sam Pitzkin, a poker player unlike any you’ve encountered. Today marks the day that Sam and I launch PitzkinPoker, a website filled with totally useless somewhat dangerous wacky cuckoo brilliant techniques that will in all likelihood change the way you look at the game.

So who is Sam Pitzkin?  He’s a man of astoundingly diverse interests: a brilliant poker player who writes haikus, an ex-convict who quotes Shakespeare at the Hold’em table, and a connoisseur of cheese who still finds time to make a positive mark in the community. His charitable organization, the Inner City Children’s Poker Fund, has helped literally dozens of kids escape the clutches of poverty.

Read more about this remarkable man at pitzkinpoker.com.

Objects in the Mirror, part two

They call it the World Series of Poker, but I’m thinking that might just be a misnomer.

To reach baseball’s World Series, players must slog their way through an interminable, yawn-inducing regular season (162 games) plus a couple of weeks of playoffs before they get a crack at the so-called World Championship.

To reach the World Series of Poker, simply buy a ticket to McCarran International Airport, catch a ride to the Rio, plunk down your cash, and you’re in.

And unlike MLB’s World Series, which is a best-of-seven contest, the WSOP is actually 65 separate events played over the course of seven weeks, with various games and buy-ins culminating in the ten-day No-Limit Hold’em Main Event, the one that costs $10,000 for a seat at the table, the one that will pay out $10 million to the winner when the final nine players reconvene in November.

By Gage Skidmore [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Aaron Paul was among the entrants in the 2014 Main Event.
At the WSOP, gender is not an issue. Neither is age, as long as you’re at least 21. Neither is nationality or skill. So essentially it’s more like the WCOP, the World Convention of Poker. You could be Stanford scholar or a paranoid, hygienically challenged old coot. You could be a celebrity: Aaron Paul, James Woods, Justin Henry and Ray Romano played this year. You could hail from Minsk, Athens, Tel-Aviv, or Matuyama City, Japan; a total of 87 countries were represented in the pool of 6,683 players who ponied up $10Gs for this year’s Main Event.

By the time I arrived at the Rio for my shot at a WSOP Side Event (which I’m capitalizing to make it seem more important that it actually was), 90% of those players had been bounced. Smarts and celebrityhood simply cannot protect you from those ever-escalating blinds.

The delegate from the fair state of Oregon will please step forward and be seated.

So while the 690-something remaining Main Event participants duked it out in the Amazon room, at 2:45pm I presented my entry slip and photo ID to the dealer at my assigned table, number 57, and took my place at seat four.

Psyched. Ready to compete against the other 538 entrants. “The Mental Game of Poker” had prepped me psychologically, and the Power Bar Triple Protein Threat that I’d consumed in my room at Bally’s and the Chocolate Caramel Fusion Bar in my pocket were going to keep me buzzing for awhile.

It’s 3pm: Let the game begin!

The contest progressed like this: 30-minute levels beginning at 25/50 blinds, with antes being added at level four. A 20-minute break every two hours.

At every poker table, there’s always a designated chatterbox and at table 57 those duties fell to the loudmouthed, Bronx-born general manager of a Houston car dealership. He wouldn’t shut up, perhaps because he was lubricating himself with tumbler after tumbler of vodka and pineapple juice. His playing style: Loosey-goosey, any two cards will do.

Then there was this lanky kid, an omnivore from Berlin, a terrible player with a charming German accent. While the Bronx guy was inhaling vodka, this kid was inhaling food. First there was the plate of salad and cheese that he forked into his mouth during and between hands. Then he disappeared and returned from the Poker Kitchen with a plastic tray bearing a large chunk of beef and a side of potatoes, which he proceeded to shovel down his gullet. Unfortunately for him, this fuel did nothing to improve the quality of his game. Soon he was hanging by a thread, prompting the sardonic old codger to my right to lean into me and whisper, “I bet he goes all in once he finishes that slab of meat.”

The final morsel was consumed, a final bet was made and he was gone.

Two hours later, it’s time for break number two, and I’m the one hanging by a thread. My chip stack has drastically shrunk. I have 20 minutes to figure this out. Out on the patio, in the hundred-degree heat, I take a shot at visualization: What’s the best possible situation for me at this point?

I picture pocket aces. I picture making a big raise. I picture everyone folding, except two players. I picture my aces holding up.

What the hell: If you’re going to dream the impossible dream, why not go all the way?

Inside, three hands later, I look down at my hole cards: Pocket aces. I make a big raise. Everyone folds except two players. I go all-in. My pocket aces win it and I triple up.

Tip of the hat to Shakti Gawain.

Finally, though, the clock wears down my stack to next-to-nada and I go all-in with ace-five off-suit and I’m trounced by a bigger ace. Six and a half hours into the tourney, I say “Good luck, everybody,” and take my Walk of Shame, not comforted by the fact that the vodka/pineapple-drunk car dealer from the Bronx has somehow managed to keep his seat longer than I.

Note to self: Next time get sloshed on pineapple-and-vodka. Maybe that’s the key to success in this game.

Casino buffet

WSOP’s Old Guy

By Sunday—day six of the Main Event—a quiet, church-like atmosphere prevailed; the Amazon Room had been transformed into the Cathedral of Poker. Pockets of light illuminated the remaining eight tables while spectators watched from the surrounding dimness.

There was some commotion, however, at the featured table where the oldest remaining player, Bill Cole, 72, of Murrieta, CA, was on a run of good luck. When his ace-king took down a huge pot against a youngster holding ace-queen, he leapt from his chair and shouted “Livin’ the dream!” and exchanged hugs with his small but vocal entourage.

You couldn’t help but root for the guy, but it wasn’t long before he shipped all his chips with ace-king of clubs (a reasonable move at that point) and lost to a pair of queens. It wasn’t a bad payday for the oldster: Finishing in 58th place, he took home $124,447.

Worst Bad Beat Ever?

This YouTube clip has been the buzz of the poker world, and for good reason. It occurred at WSOP’s Big One for One Drop, in which the buy-in was $1 million. Two players went E20Ci [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commonsall-in. Each held pocket aces. Statistically, this should have resulted in a chopped pot. But then there was that nasty heart on the river…

And you found me how?

The wonderful world of WordPress allows blog-keepers such as yours truly to monitor traffic. It also displays search terms, phrases that have led readers to Stone-Cold Nuts. Here are two recent examples, phrases that people typed into their search engines which, one click later, deposited them right here.

There’s this:

man won poker tournament of Adderall

And even better:

human nuts being cold

Speaking of nuts…

Overheard by my friend Zach Elwood at a Portland poker room: “I’m not impugning your manhood. I’m merely questioning your hand selection.”

Guest Post Numero Uno

I recently penned a guest post for YourPokerDealer.com in which I drew an analogy between the nuns of my youth and poker dealers. You can read it here: The Nun at the Table.

Objects in the Mirror, part one

There it is. The sign. Right there. The airport-shuttle driver is pointing at it from the driveway in front of my hotel.

The Rio, home of the 2014 World Series of Poker.

Wow, so close.

It’s 11:30pm on a steaming hot Thursday night, I just landed, but what the heck, maybe I’ll just stroll on over to—

Wait a minute, jocko. Are you insane? Sure it looks like you could reach out and touch that Rio sign, but everything in Las Vegas is farther away than it might seem. Much farther.

A pocket pair, for example. Also, luck.

Also my hotel room at Bally’s: an inexplicable 40-minute wait to check in. Also, the Internet at Bally’s: $20 a day if you want to use that iPad. Also, restaurants at Bally’s; because of the stupid 40-minute wait to check-in, everything is closed, so it’s a 15-minute underground hike to a pathetic Sbarro’s where there’s a 10-minute wait for a cheese slice. Post-slice, it’s too late to catch the shuttle over to the WSOP, so that’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

Also far away: the Amazon Room at the Rio, where the WSOP Main Event is being played. From the front door of the Rio where the shuttle from Bally’s drops you, it’s a half-mile trek through the casino then down one hallway after another. Past the oxygen station, past Hash House A Go-Go, past the “Welcome to the World Series of Poker” sign – still a quarter mile to go. Past two signs with the headline “Stone Cold Nats.” Past the Poker Kitchen (hey, it’s beginning to look like a poker theme park!), past the Brasilia Room—where I’ll play in a WSOP side event later this particular day—past the stacks of All In magazine and Ante Up, past the souvenir stand and the book stand, until you arrive at the nexus of the poker world, at least on this Friday afternoon: the Amazon Room.

Inside is Day Four of the Main Event.

Awww, they knew I was coming.
Awww, they knew I was coming.

In contrast to the Strip, where chaos reigns 24/7, the Main Event is a paradigm of quiet efficiency. Conversations are muted. Video crews—there are several—glide with precision from table to table.

On the north side of the room is ESPN’s featured table, lit for TV, ringed with cameras and several dozen spectator seats, with an announcer providing the play-by-play. From my angle—behind video village, where the crew from Poker PROductions is milling about—it’s difficult to see the faces of the players.

 

I turn to the guy next to me, a Serbian fellow from Denver, and ask, “Any famous players at the table?”

He points. “Well, there’s Phil Ivey.”

There he sits: cold-eyed, expressionless gaze. Downright scary. How scary? Let me tell you.

A few minutes later, I’m on the outside patio, where a handful of players are milling about with their cigarettes in the 105-degree heat. A 40-something Brit who’s just busted out of the Main Event has an Ivey story to tell.

Seems Ivey was seated at a neighboring table, where a young opponent with 180,000 in chips announced “all-in.” Ivey, with 250K, thinks it over and calls. The two players flip over their cards. The flop (the first three communal cards) have given the kid an open-ended straight draw. Ivey has a set (i.e., three of a kind). Ivey plainly has the lead. Two cards to go.

The turn card is revealed, giving the kid his straight. One card to go. The kid stands up and begins to walk away from the table.

Ivey: “Where are you going? You’re ahead.”

Kid: “Yeah, but you’re Phil Ivey.”

The next card pairs the board, giving Ivey a full house. File this one under The Power of Negative Visualization.

At this point, out here on the smoker’s patio, Central Casting delivers The Crazy Old Gambler: toothless, unshaven, on a stream-of-consciousness rant about Whitey Bulger and Whitey’s brother and corruption in Boston and The Crazy Old Gambler’s cross-country trip by bus which has landed him here on this cement patio and—

Clearly it’s time to exit stage left.

WSOP featured table
WSOP featured table

Poor 695

Day One of the Main Event began with 6,683 players, who each shelled out $10,000 or made their way into the tournament through much less costly satellite games. Now, back inside the Amazon Room on Day Four, they’re down to 695 players, of which 693 will finish in the money. “In the money” means that you’ll go home with anywhere from a few thousand dollars profit up to the grand prize of ten million smackeroos.

Was there a sadder tale of misfortune than Mr. 695, two players away from the money?

Mr. 695 has a full house. Mr. 695 goes all-in. Mr. 695’s opponent catches quads on the river. Mr. 695 takes the walk of shame.

Everybody who plays tournament poker at one time or another takes this walk, and it can take many guises. In a tip o’ the hat to Monty Python, let’s lump them together under one category.

The Ministry of Sheepish Walks

Your chips are all gone. You’ve busted out. There’s no rebuy, no salvation, no poker-chip-shaped life preserver. And so—no getting around it— now you must leave. How you do so defines your emotional state of mind and to some degree your personality.

Mr. Nice Guy. You’re played your best, you’ve been legitimately outplayed and so you’re gracious. You smile at the guy who just took all your chips and say, “Nice hand.” Then you turn to the table and say, “Good luck, everybody.” You turn and walk naturally to the exit. Everyone should be so pleasant.

The Mangy Mutt. You are top dog. Look at that pile of chips! Oh, yeah! It’s been growing and growing and you are numero uno, buddy! Or at least you were. Let’s admit it: You’ve kind of been a bully, gloating when you win (“You guys are my personal ATM!”), scowling when you lose. And lose. And lose. You’re on tilt because you’ve been entering pots with marginal hands using all those “extra” chips you’ve won from all these chumps. Until that one-two punch in which two of your actual good hands get eaten alive by bad beats (just like the ones of which you were the beneficiary) and suddenly you are not gloating anymore, because you’re all in with a pair of jacks against ace-king and… you’re toast.

You rise slowly from your chair, shaking your head. Your shoulders slump and you skulk way, a mangy mutt who’s pooped on the kitchen floor.

Mr. Shellshock. Hey, wait a minute. There’s something wrong here. I’ve got three kings, but the dealer is sliding my chips over to that idiot kid across the table who turned over five-three off-suit. What do you mean, I lost? What? What do you mean he caught his straight? I don’t see a— Oh.

You sit there a moment. Your fellow tablemates offer words of commiseration (“Wow, man, that was ugly”) and you exit the room, exit the building, go to the parking lot, shift your car into drive, and realize that you’ve left your iPhone at the table. Back you go, across the parking lot, into the card room, crossing the battlefield, retrieving your phone, unnoticed by your former fellow players because, let’s face it: To them you no longer exist.

The ER Patient. Pocket aces: You’re golden. The showboat to your right raises. You reraise. He reraises. You go all-in. He calls and shows pocket deuces. You simply cannot lose this hand!

The flop comes. No ace, no deuce. Your aces are holding up.

The river card is flipped over. No ace. No deuce. You’re at the finish line, baby!

The river card is… a deuce.

Owwwww. That really hurt. Bad. Tears-welling-up-in-the eyes bad. A sinking feeling that extends from your cranium to your pelvis.

Nurse, get the defibrillator. Clear!

Jaws agape, you stumble away in a haze. But you need medicine to numb the pain. Lucky for you the dispensary is open until 2am and they will gladly provide any number of elixirs guaranteed (almost) to help you forget that damn river deuce.

The WSOP Walk. Yes, everyone gets their chance to demonstrate their walk of shame. I got a chance to strut my stuff at the Rio’s Brasilia Room at about 9:30pm Pacific Daylight time on the final Friday night of the WSOP.

 WSOP Main Event banner

Casino Buffet

More than the hole-cam

Until Henry Orenstein came along, the game of poker was nearly unwatchable on TV. (To some, it still is.) He’s the fellow who invented the hole-card cam, which revolutionized TV coverage of the game and contributed mightily to poker’s resurgence. But the hole-cam wasn’t his most impressive achievement. He’s a Holocaust survivor who spent his teenage years in five concentration camps. PokerNews has a brief yet enlightening story about the man.

Pumping up the AC

Atlantic City is on the ropes: No big surprise, but it’s encouraging that they’ve come up with a new game plan.

The Return of Action Dan

Last decade, Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie co-authored the “Harrington on Hold’em” series, arguably the best available set of poker manuals. Now the duo is back with “Harrington on Modern Tournament Poker,” which presents a significantly revamped version of their earlier, conservative approach to the game.

Like the earlier books, this one is nicely written and presents smart, useful, clear-headed information in an easy-to-digest format. Reading it will pretty much guarantee an improvement in your game, so please do not buy it, especially if you plan to play hold’em in the vicinity of Portland, Oregon.

 

 

The Mind-Meld Mambo

You know that moment—that classic moment—in West Side Story when Tony and Maria meet and fall in love? They’re at a gymnasium for a neighborhood dance where tensions are running high because the Jets hate the Sharks and both groups are snarling at each other across the dance floor. The hatred is mutual, but for some reason, everyone is doing the mambo. I guess that was the tough guys’ dance of preference in 1961.

But then… then Tony and Maria simultaneously spot each other across the room, and everyone else blurs away, leaving these star-crossed lovers in their individual halos of light. The mambo music fades away and suddenly these two are performing a pas de deux to a music-box version of “Maria.”

The Jets versus the Sharks or "What happened to the mambo?"
The Jets versus the Sharks or “What happened to the mambo?”

The same kind of thing (except the pas de deux part) happens when fellow gamblers find each other in a non-gambling environment, like a wedding reception or birthday party.

“You mean, you… you play blackjack?” The other partygoers disappear into a mist of irrelevance as the two of you mind-meld over topics like card counting and eight-deck shoes. Your date listens politely, indulgently, like the mother of a five-year-old who’s happy that little Johnny has a new friend.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, at a wedding reception out in the small country town of Yacolt, WA., I found myself sitting near Jessica and Tony Quain, an entirely charming couple from the east coast. She I’d previously met. He was a stranger. We were making small talk when the conversation turned to their recent vacation in Scandinavia. Evidently they’d had a swell time cavorting (a Scandinavian-sounding verb if ever there was one) until they reached Aarhus, Denmark.

Tony was relaxing outside the Royal Casino taking a break from a blackjack session when two men in black masks raced past him into the casino wielding semi-automatic weapons. (You can see actual footage of the robbery here.)

Wait a minute. What did he just say? “Casino?” “Blackjack?” Is that a mambo I hear in the distance?

He’d uttered the magic words.

Let the mind-meld begin!

Turns out that Tony has been a card-counter for a bunch of years, a skill he took with him during college to the Atlantic City boardwalk, where he was able to profitably slog his way through those humongous eight-deck shoes.

We traded our stories of being thrown out of casinos: me from the El Dorado in Reno, him from the Trump Plaza and Claridge in AC. Oddly, they didn’t throw him out for being underage, which he was, but for his advantage playing. Evidently they don’t care much about corrupting the morals of youth and taking their money, but if Junior counts cards, they’ll toss his ass out onto the boardwalk. That was in 1991. I’m guessing there’s a statute of limitations (or institutional amnesia) because he’s returned since and played with impunity. That’s good news: Maybe I’ll return to the El Dorado.

No, wait a minute: That would mean going back to Reno.

Destination: WSOP

Tony to me: “So how does a blackjack player become a poker player?”

I’d told him I’d more or less forsaken 21 in favor of Hold’em, but the steps that led me there were kind of random.

Here goes.

A.k.a, Carte de JeuBlackjack can be a grind. You’re down, you’re up, you’re even. And if you’re counting cards your torturous inner monologue might be something like Ace plus king equals minus two… subtract that from negative 20… I’m down…. Deuce plus three equals plus two… add that to minus one… I’m up…

God help you if someone attempts even the most innocuous bit of conversation; simply processing an answer to “Nice day we’re having, don’t you think?” can give your brain a hernia. And the simple fact of life about card counting is that to really make money at it, you’ve got to have a fat bankroll—one that you’re ready to lose—at your disposal.

And then there’s the element of repetition. In blackjack, after a few hundred hands, you’ve seen it all, every combination of cards, every type of bad beat, every single way you can watch your bankroll swell and contract.

So, boredom was a factor. Then came the poker boom. Around 2003, everyone was talking about Hold’em, a phenomenon that coincided with the introduction of the hole cam, which enabled viewers to see the hole cards of players in major events. So, in effect, via televised editions of “The World Poker Tour,” you could have a front-row seat in a weekly series of poker seminars taught by the top players in the game.

That same year, James McManus’s Positively Fifth Street hit the bookstores. The book has two main threads: the murder of Ted Binion, son of Benny Binion who is credited with devising the World Series of Poker; and color coverage of the 2000 WSOP. McManus’s writing style was smart, literary and approachable. He painted such a rich portrait of the game and its players that I was hooked. Also, the fact that he—a lowly writer, mind you—made it to the final table of the Main Event was enticing.

Eleven years later, after innumerable tournaments and cash games, I’m taking the next step: the WSOP. Just one of their smaller buy-in “Side Events,” but still…

As I post this, I’m five hours away from stepping on an Alaska Airline jet, destination Vegas.

A full report will appear here next time around.

Casino Buffet #2

Econo-Blog

Turns out that my new friend Tony Quain is a lot more than an accomplished card counter. He’s a true smarty pants, with a Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. A fine writer, too, with a provocative blog on free-market economics.

Walk a mile in his shoes

While researching poker strategy, this blog popped up: YourPokerDealer.com. It explores gambling from the dealer’s point of view. It’s a highly entertaining and informative site. Check out the very observational post on empathy.

Ivey Update: The Baccarat Flapdoodle Continues

A few posts back, we talked about the suit lodged against poker pro Phil Ivey by the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. Their claim: Ivey and an associate bilked the casino out of nearly ten million dollars by exploiting the flawed patterns on the back of Gemaco playing cards.

The Borgata wants the money back because (they say) he cheated. Ivey says no way: his big wins were the result of “sheer skill.”

And so he’s firing back by filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. If Ivey’s attorneys are as skilled in legal matters as Ivey is in poker, you’ve got to pity the Borgata: They don’t stand a chance.

From “The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky and Death”

“The World Series of Poker. My intro to the world of high-stakes competition. I’d never been much of an athlete, due to a physical condition I’d had since birth (unathleticism). Perhaps if there were a sport centered around lying on your couch in a neurotic stupor all day, I’d take an interest.”

No, Doubleday never sent me a reviewer’s copy. But I’m not going to hold that against them. The book is an absolute hoot and Colson Whitehead deserves all the praise he’s been getting.