Monday, January 29, 2007

Danny's new book

They're having a debate on 2+2 about whether Danny's proposed new book on hold'em will be published this month at the same time Danny is saying he hasn't written it yet.

Supporters of PPA

Ed Brayton made a post pimping for PPA and he and I had a short debate in the comments on his post.

He seems to think that if the recent funding bill had had a carveout for poker, which is what PPA says they want, that we wouldn't be having the current problems with online poker.

That's nonsense.

Neteller has problems because they fund sports betting. All the funding sources funded sports betting. That's why they have problems. Party offered blackjack.

None of the current problems would have been eliminated by a carve out for poker. Not a single one.

It's just not a winning stratagy to try to claim poker is special.

A winning stratagy is to claim that online gambling isn't illegal, that's what the 5th circuit found, and it's a ruling that the Bush AG's office wants to ignore. No way should we support those clowns. However, PPA gives money to republican lobbyists.


More on PPA

Here's an email I sent them 5 days ago. So far no response.

I have three questions for y'all.

1. Have you ever made any financial statements public?

2. The only court that has ruled on the legality of online gambling is the 5th Circuit, and they ruled it's not illegal. With your interest in creating a carve out for poker in the existing laws, it would seem you're taking the position that the 5th Circuit was wrong and online gambling is illegal. Could you explain?

3. Poker has always been a local issue. You seem to want to federalize it. Why?

Thank you,

Gary Carson
Cushing, Oklahoma


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Reading players

Caro's book is still the best there is on the topic of using tells to read players. Tells aren't about oreo cookies, they are about fundemental ideas of player psychology.

Optimal play isn't about game theory, it's about exploitation and reading tells is a strong tool in using mathematics to determine true optimal strategy.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A look at gambling

NYT Magazine has an article on gambling and gamblers. Mostly from a sports betting perspective but wide-ranging. You'll recognize some names.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Amarillo by morning

I was supposed to be in Las Vegas Sunday to do some kind of group book signing in the morning and play in an authors tournament in the afternoon (not a televised event).

But as I was going through Amarillo there was a pop and a big puff of smoke from under the car and the little oil can light light up on the dash. I turned the switch off and navigated the damn thing through traffic, off the hiway, and into the lot of a vacant gas station.

I'll try to get it towed in the morning, the best guess right now is some engine seal blew, throwing all the oil out onto an exhaust pipe. We'll see tomorrow (or Monday). Looks like I'll be enjoying the hospitality of Super * for a couple of days. I checked and could get a flight out Saturday night, but it'll cost $500 and I don't know what the damn car repairs are going to cost me.

I do have some relatives around here somewhere, maybe I can get hold of them. But, I'm not going to be in Las Vegas this weekend.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

What does it take for Sklansky to cheat?

David Skalansky talks about his cheating history. He recounts two instances, one when Tony Spilantro offers to back in as part of a 4 man team in a Vegas game, and the other when a woman he wanted to sleep with wanted to collude in a Paradise game.

So it takes either 1. Being afraid to say no to a homicidal maniac or 2. Not being able to figure out another way to get laid.

At least he has standards.

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The No-Fly List and the Twilight Zone

After 5 years the US government has finally gotten the lipstick and bottled water threat to US air transportation under control and moved their attention to correcting their amazing no-fly list.

Maybe if he'd been carrying lipstick this 9-year-old in Seattle wouldn't have managed to fly to San Antonio (on a flight including a plane change in Phoenix)with no ticket, no id, and by himself.

Airport security. I just love it.

I meant to make this post on another blog, American Tradition but I put it here by mistake. I'm just going to leave it here. Do a little cross-selling.

Subscribe to American Tradition here.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Sucking out with God

Whenever I suck out on some nit at the poker table and he responds by calling me a luckbox, or asshole, or lucky idiot, or some such thing, my response is something like.

I used to lose all the time at poker, but then I developed a close, personal relationship with God. Now, he takes care of me. If you'd put in the effort it takes to get to know God, you'd become a winner at poker to rather than the loser you are now.

Or something like that.

Most people know I'm joking, but some seem to not be so sure that I'm not just some delusional nutcase. Those are always nice to me after I say something like that.

In his blog, Danny Boy expresses surprise that a lot of people are nice to him when he expresses his delusions about his personal relatship with God, Tufu, and Poker.

I probably shouldn't say this, and I thought about not saying it, but the truth is that I thought of Ted Haggard when I read Danny's blog.

I make fun of him, but I do wish him well. His last couple of blogs came across as just very depressed to me. In this one he talked about just locking himself up in his room (not the way he described it) when he was in Austrailia with a couple of days of no poker commitments.

If that's true then God's not going to be giving him the help he needs.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Not everybody agrees with me about Mason and Poker Player's Alliance

Elaine Vigneault is Ed Miller's wife and got offended about how Mason treated her and her husband a while back and can't let go of it. I understand that feeling, I don't care for Mason either, he's not a nice person, he's not an honest person.

The thing about Elaine that I suspect she doesn't want to face is that everything that happened between her husband and Mason was perfectly predictable from publically available information about Mason and his personality and world view. He's the guy that told me years ago, "If you'll be nice to me I'll make you a lot of money". I passed on that opportunity. Her husband didn't. He was young and naive. You can't blame Mason for that.

When I praised Mason for spending the money to investigate this money grubbing Poker Player's Alliance I didn't do so because I thought Mason's motives were pure, or that I think Mason was trying to do the right thing. I don't know what Mason's motives were, and I don't care. He provided some very helpful information to the poker community and I think he should get credit for it.

Elaine is very confused about how the PPA piggybacked on the new law that bans internet funding for illegal online gambling. That law in no way makes poker illegal. I only addresses poker if poker is already illegal. And in the US, the question of the legality of poker is a state-by-state question.

Elaine says,
Poker Player’s Alliance is the only organization that works to protect poker player’s rights. I’m not a member, but I support what they do. They could do more.

What are you talking about, Elaine? What rights?

Here's waht PPA says on their website:
The PPA is committed to protecting the game of Poker in the face of Federal Legislation that just passed to Ban ‘our game’.

Let's just skip over the part about using scare quotes. People who use scare quotes can't be trusted to have any communication skills or intent to actually engage in straightforward communication.

But what federal legislation are they talking about? (and why capitilize it?) There is no federal legislation to ban poker. None.

The law they refer to is a bad law. The primary problem with it is the way it was passed. But it doesn't ban poker.

They are simply using the objections that poker players might have to that law as a hook to raise money for no purpose. If you really want to lobby to make sure poker is legal you don't open a mail drop in DC, you open real offices staffed with real people in Austin, Albany, Oklahoma City, Sacramento, Little Rock, etc, etc. State Capitols.

There is no evidence at all, none, that PPA has any intention of doing anything or any competence even if they do intend to do anything.

Yes, it's a bad law. But that doesn't mean that you should support PPA. They aren't going to do anything with your money that helps you.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Kudos to Mason Malmuth

As many of y'all know, Mason Malmuth and I aren't exactly good friends. We had a serious rift about a disagreement about the similarity between two-stepping and swing dancing and our relationship just hasn't been the same since.

But recently Mason actually reached into his pocket to try to look behind the scenes of the Poker Player Alliance. It looks murky.

I've had my doubts about the group ever since they showed up with their hand out right after the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was passed.

What struck me at the time was that the UIGEA really had nothing to say about poker, and the PPA said their objective was to keep poker legal. But the question of whether poker is legal is a state-by-state issue, not a federal issue, and their fundraising was piggy-backing on objections to a a federal law. They didn't really have any clear lobbying plans, but what plans they did have appeared to be on a federal level. That's pointless if the goal is what they said, to keep poker legal.

Mason's attorney investigated them and all my suspicisons were verified. PPA is either a scam or just a bunch of incompetent boobs, it's one or the other.

Whichever it is, don't give them any money. And if anybody vouches for them you need to just right there name down and remember them. I wonder if any of those who where singing the praises of a Costo Rican real estate developer who turned out to be a fraud are associated with the PPA.

Always check your pockets after shaking hands with people in the poker business.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A hand from Lou Krieger

Lou reports on an ESCARGOT tournament hand where he dumps pocket Aces once the turn card and action suggests he's beat and drawing dead.

I don't really have anything to say about the hand, I think his post does a good job of explaining the relevant observations and thoughts, and I think he and his opponent both played the hand about as well as they could have.

But I do have a comment.

After a headsup preflop capping, Lou with AA, he sees

The flop was J-T-9 of mixed suits, which didn’t exactly thrill me.

Then's Lou's thinking starts drifting away from mine just slightly.

I was not a happy camper, so I bet to get additional information about how my hand stacked up against his. He raised, and I called, although I considered junking my hand at that point.

I also wondered what he thought I was holding. Because I made it four bets to go before the flop, I was essentially playing my hand face up. His raise on the flop told me that he believed he could beat any hand I had, including A-A or K-K, which is what he would assume I was holding given my betting pattern before the flop.

I'm not so sure the guy's going to assume Lou is holding AA or KK. I'm sure the guy thinks it's very likely Lou has AA or KK, probably AA. But the guy can't discount the possibility of AK in Lou's hand. In fact, if I was the guy (someone Lou says he didn't know) I'd put Lou on more of a range of AA or AKs and maybe AKo or KK.

Then we get to the sentence that gave me a pause and caused me to comment on the post.

If he had a pocket pair of queens, he raised as a semi-bluff, or thought I had A-K, A-Q or A-J and believed that he was ahead.

A semi-bluff? I don't really think so. What is a semi-bluff? A bet that hopes to profit from some combination of the chances of getting a free card or possibly being best or possibly getting a better hand to fold or if all that fails maybe getting lucky on later streets..

I donh't see that here. Maybe the guy does think he's semi-bluffing. But if he really thinks he's not best he's not really going to think Lou's laying it down at this stage. I can't see any value to a semibluff here.

I think it's pretty clear the guy thinks he's betting for value.

In the sense that it's not going to change Lou's call, it's probably not important to call the raise a raise for value rather than a semi-bluff.

But part of the game is being able to put the opponent on the range of hands he's putting you on. I think Lou is thinking the guy is putting Lou on either AA or KK. I don't think that's the range of hands the guy is putting Lou on. I think he's putting lou on AA or KK or Ak. And that range puts his bet as a value bet.

From Lou's POV, knowing he's got AA, the guy raising with QQ (what it turns out he has, and a likely holding given the action) is not a value bet. The guy is behind 3-to-2.

But from the opponents point of view, Lou doesn't have AA. From his POV, Lou has a hand picked from a range of AA, KK, AK and the queens with the straight draw are a 3-to-2 favorite.

This is important not for this hand, but for future hands. His raise on the flop suggests value bet to me, which means he's willing to put Lou on having 4-bet an AK preflop. Knowing that might effect how you should play with him on future hands.

Now, if the prefloop round hadn't gone to 4-bets I wouldn't be so sure the flop bet was a value bet. In that case I'd include thinks like QJ in his range of hands.

Anyway, other than that one little nit Lou's post is a quick and interesting read.

Friday, January 12, 2007

What box?

On Danny Boy's discussion forum a contributor started a thread with a criticism of Danny, arguing that Danny often talks about thinking outside the box, but never really doing it. His observation is that Danny doesn't really appear to know what "outside the box" means.

Part of Danny's response is --
I am a big believer in that the best way to figure out how someone thinks is to try and play as you think they would play. Erick, Josh, and I did these exercises at the Heads Up tournament this year, and I have done lots more experimenting in past years.

That's Danny's idea of what thinking outside the box means. To me, that's just a clear verification that Danny really doesn't understand the idea of thinking outside the box.

Thinking outside the box is thinking outside the norm, not just thinking that orginates with someone else. Trying to understand the way someone else thinks isn't thinking outside the box, it's just thinking inside someone elses box.

I think an example of thinking outside the box is my idea of bet odds in my book, The Complete Book of Hold'em Poker. Value betting draws was not generally considered a good idea at the time. Betting draws was considered a semi-bluff by almost everybody, not a value bet.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Review of The Complete Book of Hold'em Poker

F. Paulsson at has a new review of an old book, The Complete Book of Hold'em Poker

The review is mostly about my chapter on Poker Theory, where I talk about theorietical perspectives of the game. It would have made a good preface to the book.

It's a surprising review because I think he captures what I was trying to say in that book. I thought that chapter is the most important chapter in the book and it's one that's ignored by every other reviewer I can think of.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Initial tells

F-train makes some comments about predicting the behavior of a stranger based on initial physical observations. He uses an example of people getting into an elevator. He says he can pretty well predict whether they are the type that will stare at the floor, stare at the numbers on the screen, etc. based on their general physical appearance.

Of course, he makes the extension that such initial impressions can be useful in making initial catogorizations of poker players also. He made some good observations about people. The post is well worth reading. His observations are more people specific than poker specific. But that's really what reading people is all about.

He's talking about some characteristics that were discussed rather extensively in
Caro's Book of Poker Tells

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The Poker Chronicles has a pointer to an Ed Miller blog entry where Ed talks about whether poker games have gotten tougher recently.

Apparently there's some controversy about this, based on the idea that more and more book sales means more and more intelligent players which makes the games tougher. In a n internet Q/A Miller had said that he doesn't think it's true that book distribution makes the games tougher. Then some sort of controversy about that arose at 2+2.

Miller's right. The toughness of poker games is pretty much a self-controlling characteristic. It has nothing to do with the size or quality of the literature.

Poker doesn't exist without cronic losers. Winning and losing doesn't depend on fixed levels of "skill", it depends on relative skills between players. On average, good players will win against bad players. But good players will lose ag ainst very good players on average.

More books might well make more good players, but will also make more very good players. Books don't make poker more or less profitable. Opponents do that.

What's been happening recently is that poker underwent a boom in popularity as a cultural fad. That boom brought a boom in book sales. The books didn't make the game more popular, but the popularity of the game caused the books.

At the very beginning of the boom there were many very bad players and it wasn't difficult for a marginal player to find a game he could win at. But, the early learning curve is quick in poker, and those very bad players quickly became just bad, and marginal players didn't win as easily, they had to start paying more attention to game selection. So, in some sense poker might have become a little tougher because of a slight increase in game selection difficulty. But certainly not because of any books.

The cultural fad is starting to fad slightly and there may be slightly fewer new players every year in the near future. I'm not sure that's going to be as significant as some people might think though.

But there will always be beatable games. Because if the games aren't beatable they dry up, with the better players finding greener pastures, leaving the weak playrs to find another game, making that game easier.

The total number of games might ebb and flow, but the ebbs come from tough games drying up and blowing away. The games left after that ebb are always going to be soft games. Winning players won't play anywhere else.