Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bluff Better – Tell Me a Story

We’ve been discussing the politics of poker long enough, and since this will be the last post for a while (Spring Break starts this weekend and I’m working 17 days straight), I figured I’d get back to strategy.  And what’s more appropriate than a spirited conversation on bluffs?

Now I don’t mean that we should converse while we bluff, but we should “tell a story.”  For a bluff is nothing more than a good fable, and if you think back to your childhood (harder for some than others), you might easily recall one (or more) of your favorite bedtime stories…and what they had in common.

For me, my fave was “The Three Little Pigs.”  You know the story, so I won’t repeat it here, but it has all the makings of a classic – strong characters (on both the good and bad side), a compelling narrative with suspense, and an exciting climax.  And your bluffs should be the same way.

When you are telling your story, it has to be believable even though it’s not true.  Raising on the button is sooooo cliché – but raising one or two off the button might actually mean something other than “I’m stealing.”  A raise after one or two limpers can also mean something more, especially if you’re in one of the blinds.  At least, that’s the impression you want to give.

And when that Ace hits the flop, and they check to you, and you bet about two-thirds the pot like you have an Ace in your hand…that completes the story as if you’ve been telling them about the brick house (nice analogy, Mike) all along.

That’s when bluffs work – when they tell a predictable story and you complete the punch line.  When they don’t work is when no one is paying attention.  If you told the Three Little Pigs story to a bunch of 1st graders, you most likely will have their rapt attention.  If you told the same story to a bunch of college kids at a kegger…nah.  That’s why you can’t bluff donkeys – not because they don’t know about bluffs or are ignorant of playing strategy, but because they ARE NOT PAYING THE LEAST BIT ATTENTION TO YOU.

Another time they don’t work is when you’ve not made any kind of a lead-up to your punch line.  Traps fall into this category – how often have you seen a player check-call, check-call, and then, a scary card falls on the turn (completing a flush or straight) and they shove all-in?  What story is he telling, really?  Is it a bluff, or does he have the nuts?

And here’s where you come in…complete the story above.  Does he have it, or not?  And why do you feel the way you do?  Comment here, and we’ll discuss in a couple of weeks.

Monday, March 11, 2013

SOAPBOX UPDATE - Answering your “questions”

I received a couple of responses to my recent soapbox rants; one by email and one at work (where we talk about poker, sometimes).  Well, OK, they weren’t really questions in that “you didn’t understand,” but more like “you didn’t agree.”  In some ways, I can see why you might not be of the same mind as me, but it could be that I didn’t fully explain myself, rather than the fact that I might, just might, be full of it.  I only want these posts to go on for so long, y’know.

So, here goes…

Regarding Part Three, where I said that the casino companies that “have the most toys” will eventually wind up the winners - taking umbrage with my position that major casinos being against PokerStars buying a casino in Atlantic City isn’t inconsistent - yes, it is.

I have a problem with casino companies being both for and against gambling.  I mean, I know they’re “for” it because that’s their business, but when they take the side of the anti-gamers, that’s an inconsistent position, and makes me wonder what I can believe from them…ever.  When they position themselves as being against an expansion of gambling, just because it’s in another state, that’s inconsistent.  I know WHY they do it, but it would be better if they kept their mouth shut (and their money to themselves).  If “Casino M” has a stake in State A, but State B wants to legalize gaming, yeah, it’s gonna affect their bottom line.  No kidding.  Buy WHY would you position yourself as being on the “no gaming in State B” side just because you’re not going to be the one who gets to set up shop there?  I’ve seen this play out time and time again, and, with corporate consolidation the way it is, it has turned out that companies who fought to keep gaming out of State B wound up buying other casinos that were in State B, so talk about wasted money.  Besides, it’s stupid.  If you’re in the gaming business, you’re for gaming.  Once you take the other side…you’re just another greedy business, and why in the world would I want to patronize you?

Regarding Part Two, and my war against Zynga - well, if you’ve followed this blog long enough, you know I rarely have anything nice to say about Zynga.  To prove my point that they are long on social and short on strategy, I decided to play in their shootout tourneys.  It’s basically three Sit N Gos - first round winner goes to the next table, and then progressing to the final table.  You get your money back if you win the first table, and profit only if you make the final three of the second table (the big money being for the final table, of course).  Of course, “money” is nothing here - it’s all free play.  That’s the important thing, because the “strategy” here, as far as I can tell, is to go all-in on the first hand, no matter what cards you hold.  As of this writing, it’s been 36 39 straight first table games where at least three players (of nine) have gone all in.  A few have had quality hands (pocket Queens, Kings, A-K suited), but most are on the line of 9-5o, 6-3 suited, that kind of crap.  And, as you can imagine, when there are several players involved in a free-for-all hand like that, it’s usually the skany hand that wins.  And then the bozo goes all-in the very next hand, too.

One more thing - of those 36 39 tourneys, I was able to get to Round Two five seven times (only once did I go all in on my first hand - pocket Kings that held up).  In Round Two, someone went all in every time on the first hand (usually had three or four followers).  I made it out of that mess of land mines once to the final table, where…you guessed it - someone went all in (he had J-10 suited, and lost to a 4-flusher A-5o).  That’s poker.

Strategy, my ass, though.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Future (of Online Poker) Looks Predictable

When I wrote Part One of this series, a friend commented on my Facebook posting of the article about my political take.  Now, this friend, who we’ll call “Mike #2” (because that’s his name), shares similarities with me besides the moniker.  We’re both from the Midwest (I’m transplanted to Oregon, though), we’re both poker players and chip collectors, we both love dogs (I’m currently dog-less; he has a new corgi-mix and I love corgis, though I’ve had Eskimos and Samoyeds in the past), and we’re both older men watching our waistline.  And there are probably some other things we share.

Politics isn’t one of them.

We’ve tangled good-naturedly (I hope that was good natured) about a host of issues - and every time I’m way over here on the left, and he’s over there on the right.  He needed me (rightly so) that it was Obama’s administration that brought the hammer down on Black Friday (though they were enforcing the UIGEA, brought to you in 2006 by you-know-who).  And he ripped me a new one on my example of congressional disarray in the recent Cabinet hearings/approvals.  And no doubt we’ll tangle again.

But when it comes to online poker, we’re on the same side.  That’s because both the GOP and the Dems are of one mind here.  In the distant past, there have been matters of morality or rights or touchy-feely concerns that have caused one party or the other to cast a frown on the promotion of gambling.  But in the last 20-30 years, with Lotteries, Indian Casinos, Riverboat Casinos, Racinos (horse-track casinos), and a virtual explosion of gaming (don’t call it gambling) helping states from Maine to California with their bottom lines, there is only ONE issue that makes legislators turn their heads:

EM OH EN EE WHY.  Money.  Cash.  Dollars.  Dinero.  Cold, hard bucks.  Franklin Mint Chip.

Nevada licenses are being handed out to qualified vendors, but…this article from the Las Vegas Sun ( indicates it’s only the big fish that need apply.  The law is pretty restrictive, requiring, “…a $500,000 operating license to enter the online gambling market and restricts licenses largely to resort hotels -- a legal definition including 200 hotel rooms, a 24-7 restaurant, a bar and a casino floor-- with a non-restricted gaming license.” (LVS, 3/3/13) 
Exactly WHY does an online poker room need 200 hotel rooms?  This would be akin to only allowing firms to develop “horseless carriages” that had at least 100 stables, 24/7 access to buggy whips, and a ton of hay.  Obviously the guys with the money want to keep the money and they HATE HATE HATE competition.  And their friends in Carson City helped them keep it that way.

Want more proof?  The new law in New Jersey is similar, so, naturally, if one wants to be in the online poker biz, one needs to own a casino there.  And that’s what PokerStars is trying to do, much to the consternation of the American Gaming Association and the folks who pay their way (major casino owners).  In a story reported in CardPlayer (and elsewhere (, the AGA says PokerStars should not be approved, “because the integrity of the gaming industry would be gravely compromised by any regulatory approval of PokerStars, a business built on deceit, chicanery, and systematic flouting of U.S. law.”  To their credit, PokerStars deflected the hit, saying that “…the U.S. Department of Justice explicitly gave it permission to reenter the U.S. if licensed by a state and that it was allowed to bail out Full Tilt Poker.”  Other countries where PS does work in tandem with those in power (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, and others) might take umbrage with the AGA.

It’s already been almost two years since US players were frozen from playing online poker for money (legally), and, of course, the jockeying to make it so (officially) started longer before Black Friday. Expect the dragging of heels to continue, as they big boys with the big toys (and the bankrolls to buy them) battle it out.  It will be fierce, it will be bloody, and it will be over when someone pays someone some serious money.

When/if online poker does make its debut in Nevada or New Jersey, expect the one with all the toys to win, eventually.  It’s so predictable.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Future (of Online Poker) Looks Scary

This is part two of the “Future” series (and there will be a part three).  This time, knowing that online poker – legal, for real with money online poker – will be a reality most likely by this fall, albeit in only one, two, or maybe three states (NJ, DE, and NV, all of which has legalized it as of this writing),  There may be a few others who join this select group soon (CA, MD, IA?), but it’s doubtful they can set up all the protocols necessary to get their state games up and rolling before 2014.  But who knows?

I mentioned before that the jockeying for licenses and a presence in online poker in the US is fierce, with many established gaming houses joining forces with established gaming technology companies to earn a place at the (poker) table.

Then there is the 500 pound gorilla – PokerStars.

And it’s 1600 pound cousin – Zynga.

Make no mistake, the two monkeys listed above know better than anyone just how much is at stake here, and, as of this writing, both see a similar path to glory.  Kinda.

You know PokerStars – biggest online real poker room in the world now, and savior (and now owner) of Full Tilt, the SECOND largest.  PokerStars, vying for US legitimacy by playing ball with the government to avoid any Black Friday scandals AND also trying to prop up flagging New Jersey casinos…by buying one.  And despite all that, they cast their eye to the undisputed social gaming leader, Zynga.

So we must look to the big Z to see the “future” of gaming online, and of online poker.  And if you’ve ever played poker at Zynga, you know it ain’t pretty.  Zynga is first and foremost a social gaming construct.  Poker is just one of many amusements, like Farmville, Bubble Safari, and Mafia Wars.  Winning is secondary to being involved and having fun with your friends.  Many Zynga poker players play at the tables similarly to how they play every other game on Zynga.

And that ain’t poker.

Because it’s free and you can get more chips just by breathing (you can buy millions, but…why?), players tend to not play like “normal” poker.  As in – just about every game, just about every hand, some clown goes “all-in.”  And, most likely, MANY do likewise.  It’s only a game.

Obviously, if it were for real and real money was involved, it would be doubtful (but not impossible) to take such a cavalier attitude towards the game (though I saw a lot of that crap in the small stakes cash games on PokerStars back in the day).  Some might go that way and make some cash, many will try it and fail miserably…and never return, going back to the cheap thrills of Chefville.

Zynga has great faith in their social gaming platform (it might be fine for amusement, and the single table format is OK for phone users, but…that’s about it).  Worse yet, PokerStars now had a Facebook interface ala Zynga that allows you to sign up and play (for free) just like Zynga via Facebook.  It even had some of Zynga’s gimmicks like player levels, experience points, earning free chips and rewards for special challenges (most having to do with other players and your friends – very social).  I’ve tried the PokerStars FB format, and it’s OK – partly because it hooks into your regular PS account and the regular PS setup, and most of the games and your opponents are part of the PS network and NOT Facebook (making getting those social credits difficult).  The poker playing interface is sooooooooo much better than Zynga, it’s not funny.  Still, you can see where they’re going with this.  Too bad

If the future of online poker is destined to mirror the social online gaming experience, I foresee this as a major blow to poker.  There is no “World Series of Diner Dash.”  Poker players spend hours at the game, learning, improving, and trying to get better.  They read about poker to educate themselves to play better.  To my knowledge, there isn’t a library of good strategy books on Mafia Wars.

If poker must go the way of Zynga and its ilk, poker will no longer be the game we know and love.  Fortunately, I don’t think that will happen.  Part three of this series explains why.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Future (of Online Poker) Looks Great

You’ve no doubt seen the news this week - both New Jersey and Nevada signed measures that will allow residents of their states to LEGALLY gamble online, and they join Delaware in this regard, making at least three states (with more states like California and Maryland considering similar measures) that may have online poker available by Fall, 2013.

Hooray!  Probably.

The tortured soul that is online poker in the USA has gone through more ups and downs than that damned roller coaster outside of the New York New York casino.  We flocked to Full Tilt and PokerStars in the early part of the last decade, only to see the UIEGA in 2006 shoot a warning volley that finally hit home on Black Friday, April 15, 2011, as US players were shunned from (almost) all online sites.  Since that day almost two years ago, we’ve suffered with the crumbs of a few sites who (quietly) take US deposits in a roundabout way (disclosure - I have a small fund on one site - not saying who), pay-to-play sites like WTP and CardPlayer, and free games (for no $$$ prizes…or much of anything except practice and adrenaline) on Zynga, casino-sponsored sites, and the like.

I once thought that the initiative to make online poker legal again (OK, the depositing to play poker - don’t get technical) would come from the Federals, not the states.  Surely they realize the vast untapped $$$ waiting for them in these difficult economic times.  Cripes - this is a Congress that can’t even get a majority of Republican Senators to approve a Republican Senator for Secretary of Defense.  Think about that - hey, he’s one of us, not from the other party - NO!  Mind-boggling.

It should be no surprise that NJ, NV, and Delaware were first out of the blocks to OK online gaming, since they were states that were already “heavily invested” in the idea of revenue from casinos/gaming.  And it’s not surprising that the other states who look more likely to go the same route are also becoming more beholden to gaming revenue, or, as one wag put it, “continue to suck on the teat that is gambling taxes and fees.”

So I see an eventual set-up (barring Federal approval of course, which won’t happen for at least two years, maybe longer, maybe not ever) like this:  like horse-racing (ironically, already legal for online betting).  Simulcasting works on a state-agreed reciprocity basis where citizens of many states pool wagers at the host track and are paid thusly online via services like Xpressbet and TwinSprires, and the host track’s state gets a share of the tax revenue from wagers.  Since the pools are larger than if only that state’s residents could wager, the state’s cut is larger.  Everyone wins (except the bettors, of course, since the rake from the track is pretty high).  Still, this arrangement saved horse racing from an early death (it’s still not like it was in the 1930s, and may never return to those glory days).  Poker may very well follow this path.

That’s both good and bad news.  Since there is currently NO online poker, ANY available game might be seen as a victory.  But like horseracing, the glory days of poker may be in the rearview mirror.  Many vendors are staking claims in the new “clean” 2013 version of online poker - casinos (who have a lot to lose if everyone stays away from Vegas and plays at their computers), current online poker sites like PokerStars and PartyPoker (who have the rest of the world, but lust after the huge US market), and social sites like Zynga.  Oh, Zynga…you may be the largest gaming site in the world (and they are, really - 3x as big as PokerStars for poker alone), but your approach might speed up that rearview mirror process.

I’ll explain how in part two…