Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Year In Review – ME Edition

It’s been about a year since I started this blog, and since I only have one more day left in this year, and since everyone else seems to be doing a “year in review” kind of thing, allow me to talk about this blog and me for 2012…

In short, it was a pretty good year.  I did not post as often as I expected I might, but I think most bloggers either do it (a) more or (b) less than they plan.  I knew that summer (tourist season) was a no-go, but I expected more of me in the shoulder season and the off-season, but life got in the way.

Speaking of the tourist season, we had a great year at the ice cream parlor (our best yet), so there are no financial worries (well, no major ones) going into 2013.  We have our five year plan in motion (work until “retirement”) and it’s coming along nicely.

The major purpose of the blog was to promote my writing, and in turn, to promote the poker eBook, which became “the eBooks” which is one reason blogging was less than optimal.  When poker remained “unauthorized” in the US in 2012, I quickly put out two other non-poker eBooks, fearing that there would be a very small market for a poker book than concentrated on online small-stakes tournaments.  I was half-right.

The poker book (buy it to your right, if you haven’t already) is still my best seller, and I have high hopes that, once the US actually has an online small-stakes tournament market, it will do better.  The short stories and the blackjack book are doing as well as I expected (the short story book was #1 on Amazon for gambling short stories for a while).  I never did get as many reviews as promised, though the ones I did get were complimentary.  More would have helped sales, too.

Oh, and for those of you who can’t decide among Kindle, Nook, and a tablet, here’s my report as far as what I’ve sold – Kindle is #1 partly because I’ve promoted it the most.  Apple iBooks takes the #2 spot, and Nook – in a word, “meh.”  Hell, I’ve sold more books in the UK via Amazon than I’ve sold in the US on Barnes and Noble. I’ve also sold books in Germany and France, for those of you keeping score.  Pretty happy about that (especially since I did not translate it, and never expected to sell anything there).  Canada and Australia, too (I hear they also speak pretty good English).  Irk irk.

What’s ahead for 2013?  I have two more eBooks planned (one, on the horses, and the other on craps).  I might not get the chance to write them, as I am also considering re-releasing the horse racing program I had back in the 90’s.  I’ve modernized it to work in Windows (yes, it was DOS-based using FoxPro, a so-much-better-than-Access language it’s not funny).  I had success in the BRISNET tournament (just missed the money – 16th out of 3000+), so I think I’ve got the formula down (it was more lines of code in FoxPro, but it worked so much better than Access queries and VB).  It still needs to be more user friendly.  We’ll see.  And of course, there’s this blog.  No promises, although I do want to continue the short exercises that we started in December. 

School will be back in session next week – see you then, and Happy New Year.

And go give the book a review (any of them) if you bought one in 2012.  And if you didn’t – well, you know what to do.

Friday, December 21, 2012

More Quick Exercises – Part Four

OK, I gave you a day off.  You probably needed it, not being able to see your hole cards (see Exercise #3).  Maybe you spent some extra time on that exercise, or, maybe you took the day off from poker entirely…did some last minute shopping, watched the awkwardly named SDCCU Poinsettia Bowl, maybe actually did some work around the office or house.

Today’s exercise will be the last for 2012, as I want to get into bet sizing, and that will be a lengthy discussion…I think.  And with all the holidays coming up (Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, New Years, Capital One Bowl Week), it’s probably a good idea to keep your learning (and poker) on the back burner.  So just this one, a simple exercise, really.

Here it is – play in a Sit n Go, and target ONE (weak) player, and make him your “poker bitch” until you break/bust him.

This is the ultimate in “playing the player.”  Your opponent might not even know he’s being targeted.  All he’ll know is that whenever it seems like he has a hand, and he gets involved, you’re right there to raise, call, re-raise…you’re a constant threat and pain in the ass.

Now, obviously, you can’t just go off willy-nilly at someone.  Find a fairly timid player, one who you recognize as a calling station or a tight-passive.  You’ll always have a pretty good idea as to his holdings, so the first few times you fire at/back at him, you really don’t need to have much in the way of cards; in fact, the lousier the better in case he retaliates, and you can get away from the hand without too much damage if he hits his holdings.

But if it’s obvious that’s he’s a “fit or fold” player, and he doesn’t fit the flop, wail away.

Eventually he’ll get frustrated and look you up, which is when you push him (and at this point you should have the near nuts).  Then, once you’ve eliminated him, go after the next fish.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

That’s how you win tournaments, but you knew that.  Try this exercise in a 6-max, then a full-table SnG.  Have some fun with it (and yes, now you can look at your hole cards, but you don’t have to).

And let me wish you all a Happy Holidays (remember, there are lots of ‘em this time of year).  Be with family.  Hug your kids (especially this season).  And be ready to play some poker in 2013, provided the Mayans are wrong.Happy Holidays (hhh

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

More Quick Exercises – Part Three

Before we begin today’s little exercise, a recap – these exercises are designed to help you at tournament play, mostly Sit ‘n’ Gos.  And they involve play money instead of the real thing because you’re going to do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do at a cash game, or a tournament for real money,  So far I’ve had you play games where you only raise or fold, never call.  Then I switched it around and had you call everything – no raises or folds. Today you can call, raise, fold…whatever.

You just can’t look at your hand is all.

That’s right – you know the saying “play the player, not the cards?”  Today you have no choice.  You can use a post-it note or some other cover so that your hole cards are unseen.  Then, play as “normal” except you’ll have to take your cues from everyone else as to what you might have and what they’ve got.  Fun!

You might want to play 6-max tables for a start (or 4-max if you can – PokerStars has ‘em) so it’s a bit easier to track the players.  You could also do a heads-up match, but eventually you’ll want to do this in a 9-player setting.  Another way to start is by covering one of your two cards at first until you get a bit more comfortable, then cover both of them.  Yes, you may never get completely comfortable…but that’s the idea, kinda.

You may have heard that Annette Obrestad won an online tournament this way, supposedly, by never looking at her hole cards the entire time.  She plays very aggressively, and yeah, I buy it.  If you have difficulty in playing the player, this exercise will get you “in the mood.”

Have fun with this.  Be aggressive.  Be bold.  Be a bit crazy.  Be surprised at the results, and be ready for exercise #4 tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

More Quick Exercises to Make You a Better Player – Part Two

Here’s another quick exercise to undertake with play money while you wait for legal online poker to resume in the USA (Washington has better things to do right now, and it’ll take the states a while to get rolling, and that’s limited, so…make good use of your time now).  A reminder – these exercises are designed to help you at tournament play, mostly Sit ‘n’ Gos.  And they involve play money instead of the real thing because you’re going to do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do at a cash game, or a tournament for real money.  At least, I don’t think you would.

Today’s exercise:  you are to play in a tournament and ONLY call.  You can’t raise…and you can’t fold.  That’s right…call everything.

Yes, that’s stupid, and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll make it far.  That’s to be expected.

So what can you get out of this exercise? 

What I’d like you to concentrate on is how long it takes before other players pick up on what you’re doing…and then, take advantage of it.  Note how many actually notice what you’re doing…and more importantly, how many DON’T.

Unlike the first exercise, calling all the time isn’t a good thing.  And yet, low level players/beginners call more often than anything…they don’t raise unless they have a monster (and then, everyone else knows about it), and they fold because they don’t like their cards, which to some players isn’t very often (I could make two pair with this, or catch a back-end straight, or some other nonsense). 

But calling all the time serves you no purpose.  You’re not dictating the action, just reacting, and reacting in a passive way.  That’s deadly.

And that’s what you need to learn about aggression.  It pays.  Reacting doesn’t.  Of course, in the course of a normal tournament you’d take a variety of action – call, fold, and raise.  That’s strategy, and it should be based on your cards, your position, your stack level, your opponents’ tendencies, their stack levels, etc. etc. etc.

So try this exercise just a couple of times.  Only call, never raise or fold, in a SnG or two, and see what happens.  You’ll get frustrated.  You’ll see how observant your opponents are (not very, I assume).  And you’ll never want to play this way again.  I hope.  And this exercise will make more sense when we do #3, next time.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Some Quick Exercises to Make You a Better Player – Part One

These are the posts I wanted to write last week when life intervened.  I realize that if you’re like me, you’re getting itchy to play poker online again, but…you can’t.   It’s obviously not going to happen this year, but 2013 might see one or two states start some intra-state play, and maybe once the Feds get done pulling us off the fiscal cliff and enacting some sensible gun control, they’ll finally get around to scuttling the UIGEA and make internet poker available to all Americans.

I KID! It was very hard to write that last sentence without laughing out loud.  Or crapping my pants.

Ok, seriously, some of you might get to play poker online legally next year, so now Is a good time to get serious about your game.  And since you CAN play for free online now, you can use your play money for some learning exercises where you don’t have to worry about your bankroll in lieu of actually learning to play better.

So let’s get with it with today’s simple exercise.


A reminder – these exercises are designed to help you at tournament play, mostly Sit ‘n’ Gos.  And they involve play money instead of the real thing because you’re going to do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do at a cash game, or a tournament for real money.  At least, I don’t think you would.

Today, you are to play in a tournament and never call.  You can only do one of two things – fold or raise.

I realize that good play suggests just this, mostly.  Either your hand is good enough to make a raise (especially true if you have position), or not good enough to raise (especially when it’s a re-raise and you don’t have position).  Fair enough.  But the purpose of this exercise is hand selection, and that’s why you can’t call, even though it might be strategic to do so.  Either fold it, or raise the stakes.

What you’ll get out of this exercise (and others to follow) is a sense of what cards are really worth the investment.  The pots you play for will be, simple to see, bigger.  Therefore your stack will either (a) get bigger quicker, or (b) get smaller faster.  Since (a) is usually the desired result, I am hoping that (a) becomes the rule here for you.

And I hope you see that there’s a couple of ways this can happen, which is the other part of the exercise.  One, when you raise (or re-raise) rather than just call, there will be times when no one plays back at you and you take the pot uncontested.  Not a bad outcome.  The other thing that can happen is that you gain more respect at the table.  Your raised indicate a strong hand, and, if your hand holds up, you win; plus, you gain more respect.  This means that more of your raises may go uncontested. See above as to whether that’s a good thing (hint: yes).  And again, when you raise and your hand hold up, you win.  Again, a good thing.

And finally, by playing good starting hands, you stay out of those times when you call with marginal holdings and then worry about whether to call a re-raise when your 8-7 offsuit hits a 10-7-2 rainbow board.  Decisions become a bit easier, and more correct decisions means more winning.  Again, a good thing.

So try this simple exercise a few times.  Only raise or fold in a SnG or two, and see what happens.  If nothing else, you’ll learn something about yourself.  And that’s a good thing, too.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Y'know, you CAN play the ponies online (even if you can't play poker...)

After a 4-year absence, I went back to playing the ponies (can't play poker online, so what the heck).  Revamped the old handicapping program, and played in BRISNET's annual handicapping competition.  Out of 2000-to-3000 participants, I finished 17th (bankroll of $117.40 after 10 races, $2 bets win/place on each - that's a profit of nearly $80).  Great, right?  Not so fast - prizes awarded to the top 15 players.  Now it’s time to second-guess my selections (4 winners, 1 second), as two alternate selections came in first.  If I had used them, I would've been 6th.  Shoot.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Some things more important than Poker? Uh, yeah.

I had good intentions – I planned to get the last of my Christmas shopping out of the way this week, and then sit down to the keyboard and bang out a few short instructional posts for quick reading all next week, it being a holiday-ish week and all.  However…life got in the way.

First, we had some issues at the Post Office (as we have to mail everything back east…of course, everything is east of us, as we’re about 500 feet from the Pacific Ocean).  And there were a few other personal issues, and then there was a shooting at the Clackamas Mall in nearby Portland which put folks on edge and distracted from my writing mission, in that I found myself online checking for information and posting condolences to some friends who knew people who knew people who lived near people who worked at the mall and wasn’t that tragic and horrible and I also spent time arguing (not successfully, or course) with some people who certainly did NOT see this as the time to discuss gun control as everyone knows that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, etc.  The shooting, obviously, is more important as a discussion point, but the Post Office issue took more of my personal time.  Still, there was no blogging.

And so, on Friday, as most of Oregon learned the details of the mall shooting and the mall planned to reopen with extra security, I made revised plans to get back to the blog and write what I had planned to write…and then, some kids in Connecticut were cut down by another shooter, and here we are.

Yes, life goes on, provided you’re still alive, and if you’re reading this, we are.  We can thank our lucky stars, our deity, whomever we wish to thank, but here we are.  We’ll talk poker another day, but for now, we just might want to focus our attention on (a) the state of mental health care in this country, and, (b) we might finally have that discussion on guns that we always never get around to having.  This isn’t a call for control, or regulation, or new laws.  It’s a call for a discussion.  There is a reason some don’t want the discussion, let along control, regulation, or laws.  That can’t be allowed to continue.  We need to tal, and we need to talk now.

To borrow a popular phrase from the sixties – if not now, when?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Aggression, Motivation, and a Bluff…

Aggression, Motivation, and a Bluff all walk into a bar together.  Aggression orders a Chocolate Martini, Motivation asks for a Coors Light, and…wait a minute.  That’s the one about the Priest, the Rabbi, and the Gorilla.

Let’s try this again.  You all know that Aggression is what wins poker tournaments.  The meeky players might make cash, but it’s hard to win it all if you’re just calling bets and not making them.  Ditto for bluffing, making plays, 4-betting, and all that.  You also know that Motivation is a big factor in tournament Hold ‘em - the players who “get hot” and seemingly rake in pot after pot are feared.  No one wants to tangle with them, and so they keep on betting, and winning, and betting, and winning.  And so on.

Naturally, you want to be this player.  But what if you’re not?  What if you’ve been getting the dregs for hands, and someone else is the Table Captain?

At some point, it pays to throw out the poker equivalent of a spike strip to stop or slow down Mr. Aggression.  Today’s question is - when to do it?

My answer, somewhat ambiguous, is - sooner rather than later.

I was in two different 1 table sit-n-goes today where this very situation occurred.  In the first SNG I was one of five left (remember, three get paid) and I was nursing a mid-range stack when the cards went ice cold and the chip leader/guy on my right started raising and winning almost everything in sight.  I went almost two rounds without playing (his raises and my cards made this mandatory), and while he took out two players and allowed me to cash, I eventually got to the danger zone (less than 10 big blinds), and knew that action was needed.  On the button, I went all-in with a pair of deuces - hardly a great hand, but I was counting on fold equity.  I got it (everyone folded) and this bought me some time to the next time on the button (two hands later) where I went all in again with…3-8.  Mr. Aggression called me with QJ suited but I lucked out by catching a 3 on the turn and doubled up.  One hand later Mr. A knocked out the other player putting me in second place, where I wound up three hands later when my pocket 8’s lost to Mr. A’s KQ on a river King.  Oh well.

The second tournament was almost like the first.  We got down to three players with me in second position this time.  My stack was healthy, but then both opponents went at it with 3-betting and 4-betting galore, and with hands like 2-9 and 4-8 I sat and watched for a while, then, with a dwindling stack of slightly less than 9 BB I pushed all-in on the Big Blind when both players limped into a pot. They both folded, and I went all-in again the very next hand on the button, only to find the small blind with pocket Aces that held up.  Still, I felt I had to keep what little momentum I had kin order to get back into a winning position (it was easier to do this time because I already had cashed).

The key here is two-fold.  First, don’t wait too long so as to lose fold equity (if your push is too small you’re gonna get called, period).  Second, even though your cards continue to be trash, you’ve got to make a stand at some point, or else you’ll wind up in the short-stacked position I warned you about in #1 above.

Cards come and cards go, but you have to show aggressive players you’re not just waiting for cards, and you’re not afraid to push back.  If you want to put yourself in a position to win it all, act like a winner and be aggressive even when it’s not in the cards to do so.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Poker Lessons from Abortion Discussions

Say what?

I’ve often said that life is like poker, and vise versa, and sometimes, lessons from one can be applied to the other. Today’s lesson comes from a recent discussion I participated in (on Facebook, of course) regarding abortion (still a hot topic nearly 40 years after Roe v. Wade).

The discussion (if you can call it that) was shared from a link from a pro-life site, supposedly about a dilemma a young wife faced when she went to the doctor and found herself pregnant – again.  She already had a 1-year-old, and couldn’t afford another child.  You know where this is going – the doctor gave her a “choice” between killing the unborn fetus and killing her infant, and the discussion took off from there.

Now I don’t want to make this a comment on abortion.  I will disclose that I am pro-family-planning, which is the vein in which I made my FB comment.  Rather than make the “either or” choice (and frankly, very few things in life are just two choices), I backed up the truck to point out that IF the woman was serious about not being able to afford a second child, her choice should have been made BEFORE she became pregnant.  That is, she could (a) use birth control, or (b) not have sex…or at least, not have penis-in-vagina sex.  I’m sure there were other choices, but those were the two I mentioned.  I’ll tell you about the response I got later…onto to the poker discussion now…

Like the pregnancy situation, your poker play should be thought-out BEFORE you get into trouble.  Like chess players, you need to think a move ahead…or two, or three moves. You will be a much better player if you reduce the times you say, “What should I do NOW?” and plan by saying, “What should I do IF…”

For example, let’s say you’re on the button with J-10 suited, it’s passed to you, and you raise it up.  The small blind folds, and the big blind just calls.  The flop comes J-9-4 rainbow, the BB checks…and you…well, you plan ahead.

If you think about your choices now on the flop, and on the turn, and, for good measure on the river if you make it that far, you’ll make better decisions overall.  If you bet your pair of jacks now, and he folds, no problem; you win.  But if he calls…what do you do when the turn brings an Ace?  A face card, making a potential straight?  Another 9?

By thinking about all the potentials now, you can decide to bet small, or bet big, or to check your pair with so-so kicker (it depends on your stack size, your opponent’s stack, his playing tendencies, etc. etc. etc.).  But deciding HOW you’ll play the turn NOW, you’ll play the FLOP better, because you won’t have to make the agonizing decision later – you already know what you plan to do NOW.  And you also have to consider what to do if he RAISES now…Hardly an “either or” choice, also.

So make certain you’re planning ahead to avoid those complex decisions.  Both on the felt and in real life.  That way, you’ll be a winner.

So how were my comments about not having sex received?  Apparently, NO ONE is in favor of not having sex – we’re all rabbits or something.  The birth control issue was a bit more moderated, but as always, I am amazed at the number of people who claim that this is just not possible (mostly guys who don’t like wearing condoms). Boo-frickin’ hoo, guys. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Clock ‘em, Danno! Tanking and the Clock

There’s been much discussion on the poker blogs as to the curious poker technique known as “tanking” and the related subject of a clock. The general consensus of the discussion is that too many players tank for too long, and some sort of clock (like a shot clock in basketball) is needed to ensure the integrity of the game.

There are some known poker pros who seem to “go into the tank” quite often, usually as a Hollywood thing versus actually studying the situation at length.  Daniel Negreanu sometimes takes a while to make a decision before he acts, but at least he is entertaining, talkative, and not a colossal bore.  If you watched much of the final table of the WSOP, you saw Jesse Silvia act like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster…stone dead for minutes, then…it’s alive…it’s alive…IT’S ALIVE.  Over and over and over…and sometimes, just to make a fold that, in hindsight, was so simple even I would do it.  His opponents were not without their own marathon tanking moments (I’m looking at you, Jake Balsiger), and it must have made for an incredibly difficult editing nightmare for the producers.

If you play online, you know that the decision clock is integral to the game.  It’s there, and you always have just so much time to make a decision.  Live poker…not the same thing.  Should it be?

Let’s consider why online casinos have a clock.  OK, sure, to keep the game moving, so more hands are played, and they make more money on the rake.  But there’s another factor here, and that’s customer satisfaction.  Who really wants to play with some clown who sits there thinking about every hand for what seems like an eternity? And trust me, 30 seconds online IS an eternity.  The clock keeps people playing, and that makes players happy.

So should live tournament poker have a PERMANENT clock?  Yes, there’s one available for those who call “clock” on opponents, but it’s rare that this is done, and some players take umbrage at those who call clock too often (we’re looking at you, Tiffany Michelle).  I’ve heard from some players that a clock would destroy some of the strategies and psychology that “tanking” players use - making opponents uncomfortable and squirming, allowing slower play to help advance the blinds, blah blah blah.  And of course, some players actually NEED all that time to work out all the possible hands their opponents might be betting, figuring pot odds, re-running the hand, cards played, etc. etc. etc.

If you’re old enough to remember the arguments against a shot-clock in basketball (pro or college, take your pick), a lot of this is familiar ground.  Pro and college basketball really suffered from having a clock to force the action, huh?

A clock, forcing players to think “fast” (as opposed to half-fast), would be a great addition to live poker.  Who wants to be the first poker room to do it?  I promise it’ll be a lot better than being the first non-smoking poker room…oh, wait.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Poker Lessons from the Election - Mind the Data!

There’s been a lot of chatter on the liberal Blog-o-Sphere about the recent Presidential election.  I don’t mean the crowing, I mean the talk that most polls showed Barack Obama ahead, especially the state-by-state electoral count, and yet many Republicans felt “certain” that Mitt Romney would not just win, but win in a landslide! Yes, there were a couple of polls that showed Romney ahead in the popular vote, but NO ONE showed him winning by anything that could be considered a landslide.  Even when Fox News called it for Obama, there were many doubters.


Well, since this is a poker blog, and since I took a vow of political chastity until 2013 (I pissed off more than a few people on Facebook, I guess), allow me to answer that question and improve your poker playing at the same time.

First, people in general are lousy at calculating what we refer to as “risk.”  Americans are actually worse at it than others.  We underestimate our risk at being hit by lightning and overestimate being caught in a terrorist attack.  We underestimate our risk of losing our home to a fire or flood, and overestimate our chances of winning the lottery.  And so on.

Second, we tend to mis-calculate the odds when we really, really, really WANT something to happen.  We add “bonus points” to the odds to compensate for what we’d like to see occur, and disregard obvious signs that perhaps what we want to happen ain’t gonna happen.  Seriously - I just came across an article that discusses this phenomenon, although I must admit I’ve seen it enough on the poker felt to know it’s true.

So maybe that’s what happened last Tuesday.  Even though most polls showed an Obama victory, the Romney fans found “their own math” and “just knew” that Mitt would pull it out once all the votes were counted.

And when you play poker, are you the same?  Take this example:  Six-handed, it’s folded to you on the button, and you raise with a pair of red jacks.  The small blind folds, and the nitty big blind re-raises.  You call, and the flop comes Ace-King-Seven rainbow.  He checks, you bet about two-thirds the pot, and he raises.  Do you call?

Well, he either has air, or you are waaaayyyy behind.  And if he really is a nit, how often does he have air?  For most players this is an easy fold, but some folks get committed to their pocket face cards no matter what the data says.  If he has an ace or a king, you’re about a 9-1 dog.  In my book, that’s a landslide.

So pay attention to the cards and the data they provide.  Pay attention to the playing habits of your opponents.  If they never bluff and they like to chase flushes and there are three cards of one suit on the board and they go all-in…yeah, they probably have it.  You rarely have a complete situation like this, however.  It’s never quite this clear.  Poker is always a game of incomplete information, but often enough there IS plenty of information to make an educated decision, remembering that even being a 9-1 favorite doesn’t mean you ALWAYS win. 

Last election reference:  One pollster was accused of saying Romney had no chance of winning.  He replied, “I said it’s doubtful, not impossible.”  May the data always be in your favor, and for cryin’ out loud, pay attention to it when it’s not!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Election Process…and Poker

I haven’t blogged in a while because (a) I spent a couple of weeks back in my ancestral home of Ann Arbor (MI) with family, and (b) the election.  And even though I was away from the keyboard, I opined plenty about the election.  Some of it was even electronic, and that pissed off my Facebook friends, so…I stopped that.

Still, I have plenty to say about the Election Process. Being a progressive, I can’t complain too much about the results, I guess, but I CAN complain about the process, and what better way to illustrate the failings of our national political system than…poker.
  • In a word - MONEY.
  • In two words - Special Interests.
  • In another two words - States Rights.
Let me explain the first two…

If you followed some of the down-ballot results from election night, you’ll see that it was a pretty good night for poker and gaming. Rhode Island voters allowed expansion at one casino into table games (poker and blackjack) while defeating a similar measure for another casino (local voters held the talking stick here).  In Oregon, two casino expansion measures lost, but in Maryland, a casino expansion measure won allowing for both table games at existing casinos, and a new (6th) casino in that state.

What’s illustrative for our discussion is that in Maryland and in Oregon, opposition came from casino interests.  To be sure, there were OTHER casino interests that were in FAVOR of the measure, but unlike years ago when it was the casino business versus the religious right, now it’s casino vs. casino; money vs. money; those who are already in vs. those who want a piece of the action. 

In Oregon it was the Native American casinos against the new non-Indian casino hopefuls; in Maryland it was MGM battling Penn National.  And in both cases, the winners spent more money.  Plain and simple as that.

Another ballot issue I was passionate about suffered similarly.  Polls have shown repeatedly that as many as 2/3rds of Americans want food containing GMO ingredients to be labeled, and California’s Prop 37 was designed to do just that; the first in this country to do so (GMO labeling is common in Europe, Asia…heck, most everywhere else).  Early polls showed this measure winning handily, but then gobs of money from Monsanto and Hershey for TV ads spelled its doom.  Bummer.

So money rules.  We knew that.  More than SIX BILLION spent on this election cycle, and truthfully, just to re-elect most of the incumbents.  As if we didn’t already know what most of them stood for.  Six billion to convince the undecideds?  You can’t tell me that $6 billion couldn’t be used for something else, like….I dunno, flood relief, or school improvements, or job creation, or…SOMETHING WORTHWHILE?

Enough of that screed…on to point three. 

I’ve lived in four states, and I currently enjoy living in Oregon where EVERYONE votes by mail.  No lines.  No problems.  No hanging chads.  I have voted previously by punch cards and machines (old and new).  I have waited in line (nothing like some of the folks I saw in Ohio).  I have been the only one in the building voting (like in the white neighborhood in Ohio I saw on TV).  The fact that every state has its own system and its own methods and its own process seems to work OK until it doesn’t.  Again, some districts were late in counting ballots.  Some had machine screw-ups.  If you look at voting in other countries, they don’t seem to have the issues we do.  And that’s because they have a national voting system.  We do it state by state.

And now we’re talking, finally, about legalizing poker, but again, it’s not a national system, but state by state. Nevada for Nevadans.  Maryland for Marylanders (or whatever they call themselves).  And so on.  Yes, horse racing and lotteries overcame the intrastate issue (pooled pari-mutuel betting and PowerBall).  But will/can poker do likewise?  Players won’t be thrilled with small populations and limited choices (see: PokerStars and Full Tilt).  Poker won’t experience the growth it had back in 2003-6 unless there’s a BIG (read: National/International) pool of participants.  That means legalizing poker on a national scale.

Is that possible with the current/new congress and Obama?  Time will tell, but someone should call for the clock.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Win More by Losing Less

This point is not often stressed – you can win more (overall) by playing hands where you control the pot so that (a) if you win, you win a goodly sum, but (b) if you lose, you only lose a modest amount.

There are lots of ways to do this, and it’s easier if you’re last to act (or first to act in multi-way action).  It’s also easier if you’ve been the aggressor in this or previous pots.

Too often players will get their money in “good” – and then lose to a drawing hand or a hand that was behind but caught on the river.  Especially at the lower stakes levels, players often think of money as strength – the more money bet, the better the hand (or so it seems).  Too often an overbet signals weakness, and smart players will pounce.

OK, here’s a simple example.  On a non-threatening flop (no potential straights, flushes, etc.), most players who raised before the flop will make a continuation bet.  That’s normal (although you know you shouldn’t do it ALL the time, right?).  But how much to bet?  Let’s say there are two other players in the hand, and you’re last to act having raise to twice the blind and you got two callers…

If you hit the flop, of course you’ll bet.  If you bet big and they don’t have anything, they’ll fold, and you win a little.  If they’re on a draw, they might consider pot odds (remember, at lower stakes players don’t often do that) and either call (normal) or raise (not as common, though it can be a good play).  If your hand holds up, you win, but if you lose, you’ll lose big.  Heck, maybe they’re not on a draw, but were slow playing a low pocket pair and hit trips, and buddy, YOU’RE behind.  Not a good scenario.

It would be better to bet, but why bet 250 in a 120 pot when 80 or 100 might accomplish the same thing?  By controlling the size of the pot, you can make easier decisions down the road.

Another example: If the flop missed you the chances are that it hit one of them, and you’re behind.  Of course, tradition and common sense says you should make your C-bet.  But by putting ANY money in the pot, you’re fishing for information…did it hit one of them?  Which one?  How strong?  Again, a small bet will give you the same information as a big overbet.  If no one calls, you win.  If someone calls, you’re likely in trouble unless you improve in a hurry.  And if they raise?  Consider bailing now.

Remember, money not lost can be as good as money won, because no matter how you get it, at the end of the game it’s all YOUR money.  Make it so.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Well, That Was Quick – The Answer

I mentioned (just yesterday) that I would post an update to my post on “Can Poker Keep You Young?” once I heard back from Dr. Alan Schoonmaker, who wrote the original article that I based my post on.  Well, I heard back from the good doctor, and…I can’t tell you a thing.

The reason is that his NEXT column for Card Player magazine is Part Two of this topic, and it goes into great detail on this subject.  He let me have a sneak peak, and I loved it, partly because it’s somewhat similar to things I mention in my book, which isn’t necessarily geared to old folks like me, but to any poker player (in the small stakes venues).  Yeah, it’s ALL good advice, and even though I can’t comment on it here, you’ll want to read about it in the next issue.  Plug, plug, plug.  Seriously, it’s that good.

A second plug would be for any of Dr. Al’s five poker psychology books or the one he co-authored with David Sklansky's, DUCY?(Do You See Why?).  His Amazon’s page is right here.  Mine are over to the right, should you have any money left.

Thanks, Dr. Al!  I now have a new Amazon Wish List started!

And once Part Two is published, I will add some comments here.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Can Poker Keep You Young?

A recent article in Card Player magazine by Dr. Alan Schoonmaker asks, and then answers (mostly) this very question.  Titled, “Stay Young, Play Poker,” the good doctor suggests that besides eating right and  getting physical exercise (something we all need), older folk also need to keep the ol’ gray cells active, and what better way than playing poker?  In fact, Dr. Al points to research showing that mental activity does in fact keep brains (and their owners) healthy, and certainly poker is a cerebral activity of the highest order.  Since I’m now in the “can take the AARP discount, thank you” category myself, I find this news of great comfort.

Except…he also says that one should not play poker “on auto pilot.”  Now, I’d argue that no one, young or old, should do this (except for those multi-tablers who feel they must grind it out at 24 seats at a time, playing by rote to make a meager existence).  But what does this mean, exactly?

I confess I didn’t get a clear idea from the article, so I wrote to Dr. Schoonmaker for clarification.  Once I hear back, I will update this blog.

For now, I consider the info good news, and I have taken the advice to heart, somewhat.  I have long considered getting into mixed games, including Stud, Omaha, and the various HORSE/HOSE options, if for nothing else than to break the tedium of no limit Hold ‘em.  Not that I’ve mastered NLHE of course, but to continue my education.  But I do worry that by trying to learn multiple games it might affect my Hold ‘em performance.  So, I think I might have another way to ”mix it up.”

Since I’m in the USA, I can’t play for real money.  It doesn’t matter if I win or lose play money; it won’t break me or cause my wife to divorce me if I lose all $2.7M of it.  But I can test new “theories” and “playing styles” in these free games to see how well they work.  Yes, I know I’m playing other freebies, and it’s “not the same” as playing for keep, but…in this testing mode I can try new things, stimulate my brain, and, hopefully, learn something.

That’s the plan.  I will keep you posted as to what I learn and how I do.  For now, I’ve been trying to make up for lost time (tourist season) when I couldn’t play poker for weeks on end.  That’s one reason blogging has been light - playing too much poker!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Hell with Morality?

The hell with morality.  As an argument against online gambling, anyway.

Even though gambling in some form has been with the human race since…well, since the human race began, and even though there is some form of gambling that’s legal almost everywhere in the U.S. (only Utah and Hawaii have no form of legal gambling), there are some who object to gambling, and specifically poker, on “moral grounds.”  Now I am taking a bit of liberty in using that term in this post, but I can’t think of another term to use other than morality.  But I think it’s not moral to do so, because it’s a misuse of the term.

OK, let’s start with the ol’ dictionary definition:  Morality - conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct.   OK, keep this in mind.

My ire today was redirected at the current political platforms as spelled out in this year’s national conventions.  The GOP went so far as to title part of their platform “making the Internet Family-Friendly” (that’s a moral statement, isn’t it?).  It calls for a reversal of a recent DOJ decision on the 1961 Interstate Wire Act, and says,

"Millions of Americans suffer from problem or pathological gambling that can destroy families. We support the prohibition of gambling over the Internet and call for reversal of the Justice Department's decision distorting the formerly accepted meaning of the Wire Act that could open the door to Internet betting."

So what’s wrong with this?

Well, the “door” to “Internet betting” has been open for so long it’s hard to remember when it was closed.  I’ve been able to make horse race wagers (ain’t that gambling?) on the Internet since the middle 90s. Why say one form of gambling is legal online, and another isn’t?  Better yet, why say one form of gambling is legal one way (live) but illegal another (online)?  Conformity is missing here.

And if some Americans suffer from problem gambling, why eliminate it for everyone?  Taking this same argument further - many Americans are overweight, so we should eliminate takeout food and delivery service.  Or we should shut down all restaurants that serve fattening foods (uh-oh, I’m out of work).

Many Americans can’t hold their liquor, and drunk driving is a problem.  Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are on the rise, so, let’s prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages.  Oh, wait…tried that.

What is so virtuous about not allowing people to do something they enjoy when it doesn’t hurt anyone?  I don’t get that.

I always tend to see conformity as consistency, and that’s my problem with many people who try to hold onto a position.  They’re not consistent.  I really don’t mean to make the comparison of poker to abortion, but I’ll tell you a story that illustrates the lack of consistency and let you draw conclusions.

A number of years ago I argued with a co-worker about abortion.  She felt very strongly about this, and felt that abortion was wrong, a sin, evil, you name it - abortion had no place in a civil society.

“So you’re against all abortions, no matter what.” I said.  “Even in cases of rape or if the mother is endangered?”

“Well, no, I don’t think a young girl who’s been raped should have to have the baby,” she replied.

“What about the endangerment of the mother?”

“Well, I’m not sure about that.  I guess it depends.  But I am pro-life.  All life is precious.”

“Are you against the death penalty, too?”

“No, I’m not.  That’s different, and don’t try to change the subject.  I only want to stop seeing so many abortions.  They’re so wrong, and I feel so bad for all those innocent…”

“So reducing the number of abortions is your goal.  Is that right?” I asked.


“So you’re in favor of sex education in the schools so more kids don’t get pregnant in the first place, right.”

“Absolutely NOT.”

See?  Consistency.  Or lack thereof.

If you’re going to argue against online gambling, find another approach other than the weaker-than-hell morality angle.  That dog will not hunt worth a damn.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Details Do Matter

If you’re a teacher, you know that if you had a nickel every time a student asked, “Does spelling and/or grammar count?” you’d have a small fortune.  Of course, every teacher (save for one I had in college) responds in the affirmative, because, as we all know, “DETAILS MATTER.”  I have a great story from my teaching days that illustrates this, but I’ll save it for the end.

This being a poker/gambling blog, you’ve no doubt guessed that this somehow relates.  Of course it does.  Anyone can play poker, but to be better than the other players, you have to mind the details.  And there’s a lot to mind - playing tendencies, bet sizing, tells, meta-game, stack sizes…the list goes on.  Every time I pick up a poker magazine or read some online site, there’s information to digest, to process, to utilize.  Some of it is refresher, some of it is new to me. But the more I can use the better.  Like money.  And that’s how we get more money, by minding the details.

Too many players play as if on auto-pilot.  They always make the same moves, interpret opponents the same way, and often don’t put their full mind to the game.  Like the book report where proper spelling goes out the window,  playing with less than full concentration is not the way to win.

You say you don’t have time to keep proper records, to categorize your opponents, to play will the full concentration you need to mind all the details?  Fine, then play that way, but if you still expect to come out a winner, you’re only kidding yourself.

Or, as someone wrote earlier this week: “your only kidding yourself.”

That’s not quite what was said, but the Facebook post in question (which I naturally criticized) they used the wrong word, writing “your” instead of “you’re” (for you are).  When I pointed out the error, I was reprimanded thusly: “man i sure wish i could be a grammar troll and spend all day looking on facebook to correct small errors... my life would be great.  What’s sad about this is that the post was from a college radio station (my alma mater) and yes, this person is going to major in communications.  And I had a sad.  And my story as to why spelling counts comes from the same field. 
When students asked me if “spelling counts”, I told them this tale: 

I was teaching a radio management course, and one project had the students write a policy and procedures manual for their fictitious radio stations.  One group wrote about the basic requirements for on-air personnel, and was doing quite well until the part about work beyond their regular weekday shift

“All Full-time on-air personnel will be required to do voice work for commercials and station promos as needed.  In addition, each disc jockey will be required to take a four hour shit on weekends, on either Saturday or Sunday as per the discretion of the Program Director.”

I would have hated to go the pizza buffet on Friday night only to find out I was working on Sunday rather than Saturday…


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Back to Blogging. What’s changed? Nada.

Well, finally, I can take some time on a Saturday afternoon and bang out a post.  The ice cream store is closed, the season is over, and when we last left this pithy blog, I had high hopes of playing real-money-online and LEGAL poker by this time.


Oh sure, there has been “progress” since we last met:
  • PokerStars bought out Full Tilt and is trying to get back into the DOJ’s good graces
  • Nevada and other states aren’t waiting for the Feds to get their stuff together and made their own decision to legalize intra-state online poker (Nevada has already issues some licenses, and South Point Casino hopes to be live for Nevadans by the end of the year)
  • Senators Reid and Kyl have another bill - I don’t think much of it, and neither does the PPA, but that last sentence rhymes, so I had to add it.
Now friends, I plan to talk about all of the above eventually (gotta make up for lost time) and more, but for now let me set you straight as to why this online poker thing is taking so long.  It’s the same reason most everything involving lots of $$$$$$$$$$$$ takes a long time and is subject to tons of maneuvering, politics, back-stabbing, and other legal and not-so shenanigans.

It’s the $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

Money drives it.  Money motivates. Follow the money.  Money makes the world go ‘round, and it all comes down to money.

With the states and the feds, major players are “strategizing” (read: manipulating)  so that they (or their constituents or supporters) can be first (or the only ones) to cash in.  The Native American casinos in California take a dim view of that state’s push for online intrastate poker…unless they can find a way to be a part of it, too.  The Fed issue has more players, and therefore, is more complex (and that doesn’t even take into consideration the many who don’t want ANY online gambling for moral reasons, which we’ll discuss in another post).  It’s all about money, though.

Long ago, I remember a discussion with a broadcasting guru about the NFL and how they convinced CBS to downplay (read: eliminate) discussion of the point spreads in their pre-game shows.  “The NFL is certainly against betting on the games,” I said.  “You’d think they’d promote the spreads given how many fans actually put money on the games, or have betting pools at work.”

“Oh the NFL isn’t against betting on games so much as they haven’t figured out how to get a cut,” he replied.  “Once the NFL finds a way to get what they perceive as their deserved 5%, they’ll let Jimmy the Greek talk all he wants about Green Bay being plus three.”

And so it goes, or doesn’t…as the power brokers and moneyed interests jockey for position, we players sit and wait.  Again.  Still.  See?  Nothing’s really changed.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Summer has started, and that means not much here

Better said:  because it's summer, this means I'll be working 90 hours a week until September (we sell ice cream in a tourist town - 'nuff said).  Blogging opportunities will be practically nil.  So will times to play poker, the song goes,

"Will I see you, in September?"

Thursday, June 7, 2012


It’s June, which means all eyes are on the WSOP, except mine, which is focused on work.  Since I own an ice cream shop in a tourist town, June is the start of our busiest three months, and when I say busy, I mean slammed to the point where getting a haircut is a major challenge, let alone playing poker.

Still, in the past years I’ve found time to squeeze in some SnG action either early in the AM when wifey is at work making ice cream (on those days when I don’t have banking, supplies, or laundry duties), or late at night, just to wind down.  This year, thanks to PokerStars and their ZOOM Poker, I’ll been at the 6-max table on short sessions.  So far, it seems to accomplish two things:

1.    I relieve myself of my “Poker Jones” and
2.    It helps my game when I do switch over to the Sit ‘n’ Go tournaments.

Of course, I have to remind myself to

1.    Quit when ahead, or when I’ve lost two buy-ins (no sense tossing bad money after good), and
2.    Change tactics when going from cash games to SnG action…and visa versa.

That’s a major mistake many players make - tournaments are NOT the same as cash games, and too often (to our benefit) they make mistakes at the cash tables that aren’t necessarily mistakes in a tournament (too large of a raise, too ready to go all-in on a draw), and visa versa.  Of course, I have suffered a bit of late, as I’ve gotten the worst of it in seemingly every draw situation lately.  But that’s poker.

Another note - we’ve been busier at the store than normal for the last 6 weeks, which is why blogging has been slow and erratic.  I might try to play less poker and write more, especially when other players are making their ridiculous draws.  I that if the odds are in my favor, it will all average out and eventually my 2-pair hands will reign supreme when their 2-outers miss on the river, but until then…yeah, more writing.  That’s the ticket.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


You’ve read many articles about going on “Tilt” and probably thought to yourself, “Yeah, I get it, but I don’t go on tilt.  I am in control, and while I might have the occasional losing streak, I don’t do dumb shit and toss my cards and make bad plays and etc.”

Yeah, me too.  And while I am still resistant to the “Tilt” label, I recently harbored a losing streak of such proportions that I am rethinking how I define tilt.

Remember the Rolling Stones?  Their big hit, Satisfaction?  The last few lines…

…better come back later next week
'Cause you see I'm on a losing streak
I can't get no, oh no, no, no
Hey hey hey, that's what I say

I can't get no, I can't get no
I can't get no satisfaction
No satisfaction, no satisfaction, no satisfaction

Well, that was me.  I have been working a lot and not playing (or blogging) much, just the occasional Zoom on PokerStars and 4-max and 6-max Sit ‘n’ Gos.  And in a three week period I managed to shed 10% of my bankroll, and finish second (1 out of the money) in 10 straight 4-max SNGs.  In 7 of these tournaments I was the chip leader once we got to heads up, and in three of them my opponent went all-in and received a miracle card on the river to make a straight or flush (beating 5-1, 6-1, and 13-1 odds).  In the cash ZOOM games my well-stacked opponents seem to make flush after flush, higher trips than mine, etc.  I raised when I was ahead, I raised when speculating, I called to trap…and nothing worked.

I was frustrated, to be sure.  But I didn’t say to myself, “Hey buddy, take it easy, watch yourself…you’re on TILT.”  No siree-bob.

But I guess I was.  Maybe not in the “traditional” tilt sense, but I wasn’t playing my best, wasn’t playing like I could, wasn’t playing like I should, wasn’t playing like I CAN.  And I was losing…what more evidence could I want?

I can’t exactly pinpoint when I woke up.  But I finally realized that something had to give, and that something was me.  And my playing style.

You know the cliché definition of insanity, where if you keep doing the same thing over and over and over and expect a different outcome…that’s insanity?  That was me.  Insane.

So I made changes.  I changed my games, my style, the time of day that I played.  I took chances where before I played it ABC.  I bluffed less.  I semi-bluffed more.  I played fewer hands.  I shook up my game and myself, and in two weeks time I am almost back to where I was.

And I recognize now that Tilt has difference faces.  I will respond better, quicker, then next time Tilt comes to call.  Because Tilt always comes a’lookin’.

Monday, April 30, 2012

I'm Not Nagging, But...Gimme a Review, PLEASE!

If you've purchased any one of my three eBooks, first, thank you!  Second...if you have a moment, get on over to Amazon and give the book a review.  Now, be honest...don't just be sloppy-gooshy and lie and say it's the greatest book ever.  If you liked it (and I assume you did or you'd tell me, right?), give it some stars and say a few words nice-nice.
Regarding the poker book:  One fear I had in writing it was that since it was geared to beginners, those players who had some experience would think it was dumbed down (or just dumb).  You have to remember what it was like to be a donk, and playing with donks...and dinks.  It's different.  That was the whole point of the book - it's for true beginners (and the clueless who have been playing a while and finally decided to smarten up).

As for the gambling short stories book - it's fun!  And the Blackjack book - it's helpful!  And fun!

And I could sure use some reviews.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

PokerStars buying Full Tilt - rumors, yes, but is this a good thing?

So, the rumor is that PokerStars is planning to buy the assets of Full Tilt Poker for about $70 million or so, and much of that $$$ is to go to repayment for the ex-players.  The rumor is not being confirmed in a way that makes many think it’s true, but that’s not the purpose of this post.

Is this a good thing?  For the world’s largest poker site to buy what used to be the second-largest?  For PS, yes, a good thing….talk about killing the competition!  Of course, it still doesn’t get them into the door in the USA…or does it?

Here’s the PokerStarsBlog, Corporate Division, in the form of Eric Hollreiser, Head of Corporate Communications for PokerStars

We've had a lot of enquiries and there's lots of speculation on the forums, so I wanted to address the PokerStars chatter. As you know, PokerStars is in settlement discussions with the U.S. Department of Justice. As such settlement discussions are always confidential, we are unable to comment on rumors.

Wait…the rumor is about you buying FT.  What does the DOJ have to do with it?

Ohhhhhh…of course…the repayment for the ex-players!  If PokerStars “makes nice” and gets the money back in the hands of US players from Full Tilt (which would not have happened in the first place if the DOJ had let Black Friday come and go), they just might, JUST MIGHT, get back in good graces with the USA government, and, if the USA government ever gets off its ass and re-legalizes online poker, guess who stands a good chance of getting some sort of foot in that door?

So now it does make some sense, and yes, I see it as a good thing, as I have been a long-time PokerStars fan and player.  Remember, I’m a small-stakes guy, so it’s bit for the SuperNova status or any of that payback crap.  Best software, great customer service…and oh yeah, THEY paid their US players off after Black Friday.

So let’s hope the rumors are true, and, for my support, they can make me a PS small-stakes pro when the time comes.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Light blogging is my fault...but there's a reason (there always is).

I realize that I haven't blogged as much as I thought I might of late.  Two excuses - spring break at the store (we were open 7 days a week for 2 1/2 weeks, and we were busy, thank you), and the new Blackjack book.  There's some stuff I wanted to say about Black Friday, Zynga (yes, even more), and some other poker stuff, but with new hires at the store, dentist visits, and some other stuff, it looks like it'll have to wait. 

One thing I'll say - the recent move by states to either (a) legalize online poker (Nevada, Iowa, NJ, etc), or (b) Criminalize it (Utah, and more coming) just proves that the Feds need to step up and FINALIZE what is/isn't gambling/legal/illegal etc.  It shouldn't be about politics, but it is.  Which means we're all doomed...

Banner gone? Seems so...

Apparently the PPA Black Friday banner only works until...Black Friday.  It's not there now, so...I guess I'll erase the whole "block" from the page (which is only a black block now).  Still getting the hang of this blogging stuff.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Another book? Yes!

I held off announcing the newest addition to the Exinger library for a couple of reasons, which now seem kinda silly, it is.  ABC's of 21 is mostly "Chapter 16" from my ill-fated gambling guide of a few years ago (OK, almost 20).  I've given it out for free so often that I knew that I could add some extras and make it a short, easy to read eBook...and I held off announcing it be cause I didn't think it was any big deal (only $2.99)'s already #4 in the blackjack section for Kindle, so WTF, here it is.  Enjoy!