Saturday, July 29, 2006

Amit the Cheater (Craigslist threads)

There has been some interesting back and forth regarding the unfortunate "Amit The Cheater" threads on Craigslist.

Here is the original post from John (whose home game Amit was at and allegedly cheated):

I know that there is a community of homegame players in Manhattan, so this is a warning to all of you. There is a guy named ### Amit Shah ### that we met on craigslist, who had become a regular player at our holdem game. LAST WEEK, HE WAS CAUGHT RED-HANDED CHEATING, in front of 4 other players. As the dealer, he was fixing the deck up to have "set up" hands where he would take down huge pots.

Here is the last hand of the night that was played in a 3-way pot:

Amit (dealer): A,4 off
Me (small blind): QQ
Dan (big blind): KK

Our game is very low limit -- the blinds are 50 cent / 50 cent.

Amit: Calls 50 cents.
Me: Raise $5.
Dan: Re-raise to $5 (to $10.50 total).
Amit: Calls.
Me: Re-raise $30 more (to $40.50 total).
Dan: Re-raise, all-in (to $250+ total).
Amit: Calls... CALLS!!! With 4 reraises, an all-in, and a player behind him.
Me: Easy fold.

The flop is A,5,6.

Amit was in $700 that last night, so he was clearly desperate. My guess is that he was hoping that the pre-flop action would be a bit tamer, and that way, it would look like he was just making a "gambling" call, for maybe $20 preflop. But the preflop action didn't go that way. And, my guess is that, because he's a (proud, self-confessed) pothead, and maybe because his judgment was a bit off, he decided he would go through with it anyway at the end of the night.

I'll leave out the details of how it is that all 4 other players INDEPENDENTLY came to the conclusion that Amit was cheating, but this last hand, I think, really speaks for itself. By the end of the night, we had pretty much caught him in the act, stacking the deck under the table -- so much so that one player was dealt AK suited preflop and refused to play the hand. (Alas, the other player was also dealt AK and lost his entire stack. He flopped AKQ against Amit's QQ.)

Our best conservative guess at what Amit-the-scumbag has taken off of our table is something like $2000-3000. He has sat at our hold em table I'd say about six times, and the pattern is the same every time: First, he goes in pretty deep, about $400-500 of buyins each time. Second, he climbs out of the hole and makes a profit late at night when we he is the dealer.

Amit Shah is Indian by ethnicity (though he doesn't really look too Indian; maybe latin; maybe something else), and speaks fluent English. He is about 5'9", has slightly dark skin, and has short curly dark brown hair. His most distinguishing feature is a scar under his right (left?) eye. His cell-phone is (267) 250-0010, and his email is He lives in lower Manhattan, on Wall Street. He has been spotted at the Straddle Club playing the 1/2 NL and 2/5 NL games. He is a cheater, he is a scumbag. He is the person that smiles and shakes your hand as if he were a friend, only to stab you in the back when he can.

If you would like more details, please email me with your number and I can give you a call to talk to you about it (because I do have other information about him and his whereabouts). I know from a few different players that I've met on craigslist that he does frequent some of your home games, so at the very least, you need to be particularly careful when he is dealing -- make sure that somebody cuts the deck, and I would also count the deck fairly often to ensure that there are 52 cards.

I wish that I had it in my DNA to hunt him down and take a baseball bat to his head, but alas, I'm just not built that way. I've never been a violent person. But if any of you happen to run in to him...
Here is Reponse #1:
I hope you realize the stupidity laced in your post.

A. If you saw the cheater stacking the deck, why would you allow it to continue.

B. If he was dealing and you did not cut the deck, it is your own fault.

C. You are playing for such small stakes that it does not make a difference.

D. You are an idiot.
Here is Response #2:
hope you realize the stupidity laced in your post.

A. If you saw the cheater stacking the deck, why would you allow it to continue.

B. If he was dealing and you did not cut the deck, it is your own fault.

C. You are playing for such small stakes that it does not make a difference.

D. You are an idiot.

a. I must agree. Anytime someone suspects any kind of shenanigan's, they should say something. If you are afraid someone might get violent, you simply get up and leave the game.

b. again, I agree.

c. I disagree. They may be playing $.50 blinds, but obviously the action picks up quickly.

d. Uncalled for, my guess is you are the guy he is accusing, but that is neither here nor there.

As for the original poster, I have played in many home games throughout the area, and have hosted games. I am assuming you are using two decks being rotated around the table. The cards should NEVER leave the table. The idea that he held the deck under the table to stack is ridiculous. Once that was done, the deck should have been changed and the cards shuffled. If you knew he had the cards under the table, then it is your own damn fault.

I know a guy who is a floor person in AC and knows how to stack a deck. One night we were playing and to goof with us he ran a few practice hands. Took a quick look at the deck then began to shuffle and would say something like, "3's and 9's will be wild here", then he would deal 5-card draw and deal himself 3-3's and 2-9's. He did this a few times. Basically, the tip he gave us was to ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS cut the deck if you are not using paid dealers. Mechanics can stack the top or the bottom, but stacking the middle is impossible, since you never know where someone will cut the deck.
And here is John's response back to the both of them:
Got some comments from two random people about my posting re: Amit the cheater. Just thought I'd respond back:

You called me an idiot -- and to be honest, I think you're right. Trust me, I sit back and think about it, and I really do feel stupid for not seeing the cheating sooner. So, maybe I deserved what I got.

But in my defense, the fact of the matter is that the tone at our low-stakes table is very friendly, and no one is sitting around thinking hard-core poker. In the same way that you would be relaxed at a home game among 5-6 of your good friends, we simply didn't have our radars up. You have to understand that. I mean, if I was sitting at a 1/2 or 2/5 home game (which I consider to be stakes that are "high" enough to give a damn about), I would have my radars up and would be suspicious of everyone at the table - especially if I didn't know them. But at our 50cent/50cent table, with guys that were becoming regulars at the table, and with the friendly banter both on and off the table, I just didn't see it coming. By that time, Amit had been at our table several times, and to the best of my (bad) judgment, the guy was cool, trustworthy.

So that's why when I did see him with the deck under the table... it really didn't even REGISTER in my head. It just entered my brain for a second and I didn't think anything of it. I know how stupid that sounds. So I'm guilty as charged: It's my (our) own fault. And then, even when I did end up suspecting it, I wasn't 100% sure... and I don't want to be blaming someone for something I'm not sure about. In the end, I was a sucker and too nice (stupid) of a guy to call the guy out when I first smelled a hint of it.

It's true that the guy to the right of Amit-the-cheater's was not consistently cutting the deck. And that is definitely the table's fault. Again, it's this laid back game where everyone is friendly. No one really was acting like a poker-Nazi -- "Hey, cut the fucking deck, dude..." We were just playing for fun. And it was certainly house rules that you cut, but it wasn't strictly enforced.

That's it. That's my defense.

In the end, my original posting was not put up to brag about what an idiot I was. Or how smart we were for finally catching the guy. It was simply to warn other people that might be playing similarly low-stakes games that might become potential victims to this asshole. That's it.

Maybe playing chess is the way to go...
A pretty decent mea culpa. I still think Amit wasn't cheating, but we'll never know. In any case, the old maxim stands: "Trust your friends, but cut the cards".

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The home game blues

So John, the guy who posted that Craigslist posting about Amit the cheater, invited me to his home game for last night. I ended up going, along with Matt Slavin, and it was an interesting experience. The apartment was located near the big white Verizon building in this dingy and hot three floor walkup near Chinatown, on the east side. We went up there and the game is in a little rec room (emphasis on little) even though the living room is much larger. I think it's because there is an air conditioner in this little room, not that it worked very well. There were 9 people cramped around one of those little octagon table top setups you see so many of, playing a very fast and very loose No Limit cash game, with blinds at .50/.50.

I asked John what the max buyin was and he said that they didn't cap the max buyin. This made me a little wary, at first, but I understood as soon as I started playing the game. The action was insane! People were calling all the way down with middle pairs, raising post-flop with Ace high and chasing inside straight draws. The blinds were really irrelevant because the standard pot was approx. $50. I really like these sorts of fast and loose games because, over the long run, they do wonders to my P/L. All I have to do is wait for a good hand, raise the pot, flop something good and take it on home. Rinse and Repeat. As long as I don't waste money chasing, I can keep my winnings and walk home with serious cash. Unfortunately, I got a bad run of cards last night. I had exactly three playable hands for my entire two hour session. The first, an AKo in early position, saw me raise the pot to 6, get 4 callers, and three rags hit the board. When I checked, someone bet 20 and I had to fold. The second, an AcTc in early position, saw me raise the pot again and get a few callers. The flop came AJrag and the guy to my right went all in for $8.50. I had $29.50 in front of me and I wanted to isolate the two of us so I reraised all in. The guy to my left decided that his AJ was good enough to go all in with himself (whoopsie) and I lost my initial $40 buyin. No big whoop. I reloaded for another $40 but these cards were even worse than the first group. I didn't get anything playable, except a JcTc that didn't flop anything, and I was down to my last $15 when I was able to limp into the big blind with Qc8d. The flop came Q52 and I tried to take the pot down. Top pair, at this table, is a pretty good hand and I thought I would have some success with it so I moved all in. Matt called me with A2 and hit an A on the river. Oh well. It was a fun 2 hours. I dealt for the table for another 30 minutes and then called it a night.

Matt, on the other hand, stuck around. He had bought in for an initial $40 and then turned it into $250 before I could blink an eye. This game was perfectly suited to his playing style. At first, they believed his big bluffs (if they were bluffs), where he would bet 3X the pot on occassion. Then, they started playing back at him and he sometimes took the pot down with monster hands (including AA which stood up) and other times made incredible draws. One drawing hand, in particular, sticks out in my mind as representative. Matt has JJ and raised a small amount preflop, getting many callers. The flop came 995 and Matt bet out, getting raised by another player. Matt reraises. The other player moves all in and Matt calls. The other players shows down Q9 (duh) but a J spikes on the river and he takes down a big pot with Jacks full. This pattern would repeat many times. However, in true Slavin the Slayer fashion, he had trouble holding onto his winnings. He tried to take down a few pots with huge raises and was reraised mercilessly until he folded. When I say huge raises, imagine there is $25 in a pot and Matt goes in for $60 and gets reraised to $160. Later on, he was taken down to the felt by an older gentlemen who, I believe, had top pair to Matt's middle pair. That pot was easily over $100. Matt reloaded for another $30 and doubled up on his first hand. When I finally left, he had about $90 in front of him. When I hear more about how he finished up, I'll post it here.

As I left, I pondered the story of Amit and have come to the conclusion that Amit was not cheating. I know that they all are convinced that he was cheating because he played really really loosely and hit big cards, but I just don't see how someone could stack a deck in such close quarters. Granted, some of these players were drunk or high or both, but they're literally on top of each other. I just can't see how it's done. Besides, these players were showing the same loose play and no one was complaining when they sucked out. And if making big bets and calls and then drawing miracle suckouts is what constitutes cheating, then Matt should be hung in the town square. All in all, I think I might try that game again. If I can get just one run of good cards, I could clean up triple what I lost last night.

UPDATE: (11:15PM - 7/2/06) - Matt was up to about $350 after I left but lost it all. One day, he'll leave when he's up! :-)

Poker Jams!

So I went today to the Poker Jams tournament out on Long Island. The tournament is sponsored by Inside Connection magazine, a local music magazin on the Island. The aim of the tournament is to have music executives and industry people mingling with musicians. First, I have to tell you about the transportation issue. The event was held in Wantagh, which is an old Indian name that means "In the middle of freakin' nowhere". That's not really true. I grew up on Long Island and Wantagh isn't terribly far, it just feels like it. The tournament advertised itself as starting at 1PM, so I got up early knowing I would have to take the Long Island Rail Road out there. I checked the schedules and there is an 11:04 AM train out of Penn Station which puts me in Wantagh by 12PM. Plenty of time to get a cab to the bar where the tournament is being held and be in my seat by 1PM. So I hop on the train going uptown at about 10:35 AM, which is cutting it close but it's not that far to Penn and I've never missed a train yet. Except for one small thing which I forgot. The 2/3 runs LOCAL on the weekends. All of a sudden, I had visions of my getting there late and not being able to play at all! Amazingly though, the train got into Penn Station at 11:00AM on the button, leaving me four minutes to catch my train. That is actually plenty of time. I rushed into the main terminal, saw that my train was on track 19, and proceeded to look for a ticket machine. I've mastered the LIRR ticket machines to the point where I can get a ticket in 40 seconds flat. Then I would have just enough time to sprint to the track and make it onto my train. The first ticket machine had a huge line, and so did the second and the third and the fourth... What the hell was happening? I had no time to think so I ran to the train with the intention of buying the ticket on the train itself. It's much more expensive this way ($12.00 as opposed to $6.75), but I wouldn't miss the train at least. Once I got on the train, I discovered why the lines were so long. Everyone is heading out to the beach! There were at least 10 beautiful girls in bikinis all traveling to Freeport to catch the bus to Jones Beach. It made my ride very pleasant indeed. :-0

I read my Sklansky book on No Limit play and got to Wantagh at 12PM. I got out and started to look for a cab but there was only one at the station. I started to gesture to it but it found another couple on the sidewalk and drove over to pick them up. Darn it! I was going to have to find another way to get there. I knew the bar wasn't more than a mile and a half away, but it was 90+ degrees out and the concrete on the road made it feel even hotter. I spotted a bus stop and decided to wait for the bus. I had an hour to get there so it wouldn't be an issue. 10 minutes passed, then 20, then 25. I was getting nervous. If the bus didn't get here in 5 minutes, I would have to start walking to ensure I made it. Well, the bus never came, so I started walking. I got tired and sweaty instantly, but somehow managed to make it to the bar at 12:57PM. And, by the way, in all the time I was walking (like Moses in the desert), the damn bus never passed me! I thought I would have just enough time to register, wash my face and take my seat. But when I walked in, there were.....8 people there. That's right, 8. Over 65 people had registered, but in true musician fashion, there were ALL late! As it turns out, they didn't get the cards in the air until 2:25PM!!!! I was livid, but that stopped quickly when we started playing. As I was waiting to play, drinking my Diet Coke, a group of kids next to me were having an interesting conversation. It seems they had brought in a "ringer", or someone who fancies himself a ringer, and were negotiating how much he should get. The band who had bought the buyin didn't have any players amongst them so they "hired" a friend of theirs who thought he could win. This friend wanted half the winning proceeds while the band only wanted to give him one quarter. The friend told them that the standard "stakehorse" deal was 50%. He's right, or course, if you believe the movies! The funniest part of all this was that there were no cash prizes being given out (that would be illegal). It was all gift certificates and recording equipment and the like. How do you split 50% of a trip to Atlantic City? It pissed me off, though, that this kind of cloak and dagger shit should be taking place. But I filed the guy's face away and put it out of my mind.

The tournament was very well run (other than the starting time) and there were 7 tables of 9 players each. $99 bought you $1500 in chips and you could get a one time add-on in the first hour of 500 more chips for $33. The add-on was ridiculous but I did it anyway. That story will come later. Immediately when the cards started flying, I knew this was going to be a soft group. One guy at my table had never played before and the rest were musicians, not card players. Here's what a typical player looked like:

I mean, was I supposed to be scared of this guy? The first hand of the tournament, I'm in the small blind with 99. This is a tough hand because I'm expecting a lot of people to be calling me with whatever I do. Blind are 25/50 and I decide to limp hoping to flop a set. There are 7 people in the pot when the flop comes all undercards with no flush possibilities. I decide to try to take down the pot by betting 250. The guy to my left, not a musician but an industry insider kid (about 28 years old and shlubby looking), calls. Everyone else folds. The next card comes an A. I fire out another 350 and he calls. Damn! He must have something. The next card is a K and I'm screwed. I check and he checks showing pocket Tens. One hand in and my stack is nearly hald it's size. Not a good start. Three hands later, though, I make it back and then some. I get AcQc and raise the pot to 150. I get 3 callers and the flop comes KJ9. A few people check around to me and I check. The turn is the most beautiful 10 you've ever seen. There are 2 diamonds aboard but I'm not worried about them. I'm hoping someone has a Queen when everyone checks to me. I bet 200 and get one caller. The river is a rag and he checks. I bet 250 and he calls, showing T8. I take it down and now I'm up a bit. For the next 15 minutes I fold because I don't have anything playable. Blinds go up to 50/100 and in the middle of the blind level, I'm in the small blind again with K10 off suit. 6 people limp in and I have to make the call for half price. There are now 7 bets in the pot and the flop comes KdTs5d. Wow, top two pair. But I'm in the small blind and I don't want anyone to chase me. So I move all in with 1525, trying to buy the pot right there. I figure if anyone decides to chase a flush draw, they're at least going to pay me as much as I can make them pay. This idiot at the end of the table does just that. He's shorter stacked than me and he shows down AdJd. He also says, "I have to call with that", like it's a given or something. Surprise surprise though, a diamond does NOT hit on the turn or river, nor does the Queen to give him a straight. But he still wins! How? The turn was an Ace and the river was an Ace! Ouch ouch ouch. I'm down to 600 in chips with blinds about to hit 200/400. So I added on for $33 for another 500 units to at least give myself a fighting chance. I figured I would just have to double up once or twice (should be easy at this table) and I would be golden. But for the next 20 minutes, my highest card was a J. I once had JT suited I was going to push with, but the guy to my right went all in. I folded and he took down a pot with AJ. Whew! Eventually though, I caught top pair on the flop in the big blind and pushed all in. The shlubby guy to my left called with top two pair and that was it for me. Oh well. I stuck around and watched "the ringer" He actually was doing well with a healthy chip stack and 15 players left. I sat behind him, rooting against him in my mind, when he got taken down to the felt. He made a strong move with pocket Ten's with J85 on the board and was called all in with AA. No help came for him and he had to split 50% of nothing. Sweet justice. Two hands later, at the same table, I witnessed one of the most rollercoaster hands I had ever seen. The lead changed with every card drawn. This poor guy raises preflop, gets reraised and he moves all in and is called. The "poor guy" shows AA and his opponent shows KJ, a dominated underdog. The flop comes KQJ, giving this opponent two pair. Yowtch! Then the turn is a 10, giving the AA a straight! Finally, to end this up and down ride, the river was a K, giving the opponent a full house and the pot. Yeesh. How awful is that?

But it wasn't over yet. I put my name on a list for a sidegame and then went to eat lunch in the bar area. As I was eating, the side game filled up and started without me! I tried to start a new side game, but there was only one person interested. So we played heads up for a consolation prize package that featured a box of guitar string, a box of bass string, a blues single coil pickup, $100 worth of CD duplicating services and The Indie Bible, which is a book detailing how small indie bands can get there songs recorded and on the radio. The heads up match was a $30 buyin for 800 units, 10 minute blinds and blinds starting at 25/25. I slipped behind a bit in the first blind level but took down a good pot at the start of the second when my K10 made a top pair of Tens vs. his JT. Now I was up a bit. I looked down in the big blind at pocket Aces and nearly drooled. It got even better when he raised the bet to 150. I came over the top for 250, hoping he had a hand. He pushed all-in and I called, crushing his A5 for the win! During the first round, he had advertised an all in by flashing me the Ace, so I knew he was prone to the all in when he had high cards. He just ran into a monster this time and I took down the prizes.

I dreaded the walk back to the train station, but a nice fellow (the "ringer"!) gave me a lift and I caught the LIRR back home. None of the prizes had been cash but I think I pulled out about even with the prize package. There's at least $200 worth of goods and services there and I spent $163 on buyins, so it was an afternoon well spent.

This is what the bar looked like with the tables:

And this is the coolest tatoo I saw (A Jack Daniels label!):

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Successful AC run

So I had a free Saturday to myself and no plans with anyone. No plans with a girlfriend, no plans with other friends, no movies to see, no cleaning to do, no work and no studying of any sort. Most normal people, in such a predicament, would sleep in late and lounge around all day. But not me. I did what any poker addicted gambler would do and I made my way up to the Port Authority to catch the bus to Atlantic City. The ironic thing is that it actually takes more work to do that than it does to go to my actual job. And I have to get up earlier too. Weird...

So anyhow, I caught the 9:00 am bus to the Trump Plaza casino, mainly because there is only one bus going to one casino each half hour and that was the earliest one I could make myself get. I had to go before noon, though, because I wanted to play in a tournament and I knew that the cheaper tournaments on Saturdays are near noon time. I specifically wanted to play at Caesars, which happens to be next door to Trump Plaza thankfully, because I am really enamored of their card room. They have very nice tables and comfy chairs, the room is non-smoking and somewhat quiet and there are enough players and tables so that you have action but you don't have to wait 90 minutes to sit, like at the Borgata or Taj Mahal. The bad news is that Caesars doesn't post their tournament schedule online like the other major cardrooms. I saw a website that said they have a 12:15 tourney, which is what I was going by but when I got there I found out the tournament was actually at 1 pm. Ok, no big whoop. I had gotten to the poker room at around 11:45a, so I had about an hour to kill. I didn't want to sit down at a no-limit table because it usually takes a little while to warm up in those games and I didn't have that kind of luxury. Besides, I didn't want to take the chance of suffering some awful beat, losing my bankroll, and then being on tilt during the tournament. So I played for an hout in the ultimate time wasting game. $2-$4 limit (aka Grandmas Game).

A new table was started and I sat down in my favorite position, seat 5, next to Dee. Dee is a wonderful old woman (like mummified ancient old) who is a hell of a card player. It's not that she was bluffing or anything, she just knew what she was doing. I had a great time chatting her up for a while. Oh, I didn't win anything. In fact, I spent an hour looking at unplayable hand after unplayable hand. The best I could play were suited connectors which didn't hit once and I left the table having taken down exactly one pot. Total P/L for my 1 hour of 2-4 Limit play: minus $30. Not an auspicious start.

One o'clock came and it was time to start the tournament. The tournament structure was as follows: $100+$20 for the buyin, $5000 chips to start with, blinds start at $25/$50, 20 minute blind levels. The tournament was a freezout with no rebuys or addons allowed, but they did allow alternates for the first hour, meaning that if a person busted out, someone from the outside public could pay for a seat. We started the tourney with 69 players but there had to have been at least a dozen or more alternates. My table alone had 5 people bust out in the first 2 blind levels, with one guy busting out in the first two hands! The tournament manager, when I went to get my seat assigned, described the tournament structure as "very slow" but I found it to be the opposite. The blinds weren't too bad for the first hour but antes started on the 3rd blind level and blinds doubled every level rather than increasing steadily. The blind levels were:
1. $25/50
2. $50/$100
3. $25 ante, $100/$200
10 minute break to get color up green chips. No chip race here. Extra greens were rounded up to $100.
4. $100 ante, $200/$400
5. $200 ante, $400/$$800
I don't know what the next blind levels were because I busted out in the 5th level. I played my usual tight/aggressive game but I couldn't catch a flop when I called a bet and limping in was not an option. Every, and I mean every, pot was raised. The standard raise was $300-$500 so I was looking at over %10 of my stack to see any flop. Obviously, I needed to pick a place where I was going to do this. I called exactly 2 hands hoping to catch. In one hand, I had KhQh in late position but the flop was junk low cards and the initial raiser went all in. Quick fold there. The next time was AhQs but the flop was KJ. Again, I had to fold. Once the antes started coming in, the pots got much juicier but by then my only move was all in since I was down to $3500 in chips. I picked up one pot by moving all in with A8 hoping to double through someone with a little luck, but no one bit and I had to be content with the blinds and antes. That sustained me for a while until I had to make a move again with A10 and ran into an AQ. By that time, I had $3300 in chips and was under the gun with blinds at $400/$800. There was $3000 in the pot before I even acted (9 remaining player * $200 ante plus blinds)! Nothing helped me and I busted out. I got a good two hours out of it but I felt unsatisfied. I don't think I played badly, I just couldn't catch any playable cards. It was just one of those sessions, and the blind structure threw me for a bit of a loop. The next time I try to play one of those, I'm going to be more aggressive more quickly. I think you really need to double up in the first three rounds just to be able to survive. I'm also thinking of just not trying this tournament again. There must be some less aggressive tournaments I can find. Oh well. Total P/L for my 2 hours of tournament play: minus $120. Down $150 so far after 3 hours.

But I wasn't finished yet, not by a long shot. I knew that the odds of placing in the money in the tournament were long and I was going to be playing some $1-$2 No Limit afterwards, which I did. I got $300 in chips from the cage (the max buy-in at the table) and a new table opened up. I got the 5 seat again and got ready to play. A bunch of people sat down. Some looked like tourists, a few looked like cagey regulars and one woman looked like a complete shark. Well, my first hand, in early position is AcKc. Oh boy. This is a hand you can really get in trouble with at a new table. I don't know any of these people, I don't know their playing styles and I don't have any table images (mine or theirs) to work from. So instead of making a standard $10-$12 raise, I made it $5 to go, just to see how people would react. Sure enough, I got a bunch of callers. The flop came down TsJsQh. I had flopped broadway and I couldn't believe it. What do I do now? I definitely was not happy about the two spades with all the caller I had and I didn't want to get into an all in situation but I surely wanted to make some money. Checks came to me and I made it $12 to go. I thought it was big enough where anyone without a made hand would have to drop. Sure enough, this being the first hand and all, they all folded around to a big young black man named Kenneth. Kenneth, as it turned out, is a very good natured guy from Philadelphia who was there with a friend of his, who was also at this table. But Kenneth, at this point didn't know me from a hole in the wall. I think he though I was trying to B.S. the table on the first hand. He raised me to $25. All of a sudden, I saw in my head a reraise and all in and a call where he would either show a set and hit a boat or show two spades and hit that. I would be down $300 in my first hand! But I calmed my mind and reminded myself that I had, at the time, the absolute best hand possible and that Kenneth would have to draw against me to beat me. With this in mind, and everyone else out of the hand, I reraised him to $100 total. That was the magic number it seemed and he laid down his hand. Neither of us showed and he made a glib comment about "paying to see how poeople play". My guess is he was on a draw or he had the Q. As I would find out later, he and his friend loved to bet on middle pairs or top pairs with weak kickers. I took his friend for a bunch of nice sized pots because of this. So, it was one hand in and I was up about $50. Good start!

The next hand I also won and I was rolling quickly. I love it when I get up in a hurry and I can play with my profit. It feels so much better than playing to catch up. About 45 minutes later, after dragging a few smaller pots, but nothing spectacular, I saw myself looking down at A10. The flop come 10 rag rag. Kenneth's friend bets 15 and I call with one other caller. Turn comes another rag and I decide to take it down. He bets 25 and I can sense he's got another middle pair. He's been showing down a few pots with the same betting pattern and the same types of cards, winning some and losing others, and I thought I had the read on him. I came over the top for 60 and got him to fold. Another fine pot. But later on, he would give me his entire stack in a spectacular fashion. I had KJ suited in late position and I was able to limp in for $2. Things had started to settle into a rhythm and I was able to limp into more hands like this that could make me winners. The flop came and awful AQrag. However, betting was light. Kenneth's friend (I never did get his name), led out with $6 and got about 6 callers. With that much money at stake, I had to see the next card. A 10 would give me a hugely hidden straight and allow me to make a great move, I hoped. Well, I wouldn't be blogging this if the 10 didn't hit. I was relishing the moment. I'm in late position with a raiser in front of me and I've got the stone cold nuts. Sure enough, he makes it $15 to go, we get one caller and I ponder (read:acting). I go over it in my head and come to the fake conclusion that he had nothing and call my re-raise to $40. This is just enough to make him think I'm taking a stab at trying to buy it. He looks at me, thinks, and moves all in with his stack. The other caller folds (too bad) and I immediately call showing the soul crushing nuts. He shows down Q10. He had middle pair (no surprise) and the 10 gave him what he thought was a good two pair. Good enough to lose his bankroll on. The river was harmless and I got congratulations from the table for the win. The profit in the pot was approximately $120, which kept me in the game for quite a while. Later on, against the same guy (we did this a few times), I got AA on the button. Curses these rockets! Were they of North Korean make or did Grumman manufacture them. We'll see. I raised to $10 when the limpers got to me and got 2 callers. Flop comes down KsQd7d and my "friend" bets out $20. Other callers fold and I call. I'm a little worried he might have hit two pair KQ. I'm confident he has the K but the two pair would be harsh for me. My mind was praying for the board to pair when the Ad hit on the turn. Not bad, but now the flush is worrying me. This guy could literally have anything judging from the cards he's been showing. He bets out another $20 and I have to call. Now I'm just hoping to pair the board and, sure enough, the 7 comes on the river. Unless he's got 77 in his hand, I can't be beat. He checks to me and I have to think of a number that's going to get him to call. I figure $35 will do it and I lay out the chips. With $110 in the pot, he's going to call that with anything that's likely to had a shot at winning but he lays down his hand after some agonizing. This is why I think he just had the K. For the first and last time during this session, I flash my cards and compliment him on his excellent laydown. To my amusement, Kenneth and the girl-shark (Melissa was her name), were making side bets between themselves on what my hand was. They settled on A-middle. Somehow they thought I'd call the $20 flop bet with 3 outs for the Ace. Silly people!

Melissa, as I found out from talking to her, grew up near Atlantic City and plays poker there every weekend. She's quite good but, like many poker regulars, prefers "action" to waiting it out. She will pump up pots just to see larger pots and will try to bluff when people aren't betting. Personally, I love playing with people like this because of two reasons. One, this loose aggressive playing style forces me to tighten up and wait for premium hands. This is not a bad thing when the price of looking at cards is only $3 for every ten hands seen. One big pot can pay that price for hours. Two, and most importantly, these characters who do this never seem to believe you ever have a hand. Since their style is bluffing, once you play back at them, they always seem to go over the top and pay you off. So getting your one big hand allows you to be paid off huge. The benefit to them is that they can also get a big payoff if their draw comes but, as we know, that happens less frequently than they think. This is the beauty of this game.

So, back to the action. At this point, I was up over $200 dollars and feeling quite good. I was in the small blind when I looked down at 5s5c and was able to limp in. Small pairs, for me, are nothing more than a limping situation, especially in early position. You're just hoping to make your set with no draws and try to milk as much as you can out of it. If you get a board that has a flush or straight draw, you bet big trying to drive them all out and take your piddling winnings. Or, you can try to milk it, hoping the draw doesn't come and win some more. This is what happened. The flop came up with a As9s5h. I had made my set but there was a spade flush draw on board that I didn't like. The good news is that there was an A so any high card holder might bet into me. I checked and got one guy to bet $6. About 5 people called, along with me trying to milk a big pot, and the turn flipped a 7s. Shoot! The spade had fallen. I could only check here and hope I got a cheap enough bet that I could call to get a boat. Amazingly, it checked all around and the river came...4s. Grrrr... With four spades on board, I had a flush, but it was only 5 high and was dead to any other spade. I checked with some frustration and someone bet out $15 followed by a reraise to $35. I folded, of course, and the initial raiser called, showing A8 with the 8 of spades. His caller showed A10 with the 10 of spades. So, as it turns out, I was leading all the way to the river. Given all the spades that were in people's hands, I think I made the right play. I didn't give up too much money and if either of them had hit their top two pair, I could've had a big pay day. Oh well. I was starting to get really hungry, having not eaten since just before I got on the bus at 9am. So I decided to play until the big blind got to me and I would cash out. I was at $495 on the table at this point and I looked down at my last hand of the night, AKo. I made it $10 to go and got a single caller, Kenneth's friend of course. The flop came down K52 rainbow. I didn't really want to dick around so I bet $25 and he folded. I tipped the dealer $4 ($2 for the hand and $2 because I was leaving) and cashed out. Final tally for 4 hours of No Limit play: Up $204

Final Tally for 7 fun hours in Atlantic City: Up $54.
I don't count transportation costs in my poker accounting, but if you want to know, it was $31 for the round trip bus fare, but they gave me $20 in cash and a $5 coupon for Sbarro's (where I ate dinner) so the entire transportation fee was $6!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Juicy tournament win

I played in a home game last night that was the definition of juicy. The Wall Street Poker League was well represented, with Matt Slavin, Darko, Scott Lawler and Thomas Downes all in attendance. The structure of the game was a $30 buy-in tournament with rebuys allowed for the first 2 hours or so. As it turned out, rebuys ended up being allowed for the first 2.5 hours (!) but it turned out all right. Chips were purchased in blocks of $500 and the blinds, starting at 2-4, gradually increased in a haphazard manner until they were 200/400. 8 players started and the top two places paid out at 75%/25%. Play was very loose with some players buying back 5 times or more; I won't say who ;-0.

It was tough going for me for a few reasons. Reason one, the play was so loose that I tightened up instinctively which made for some good and bad laydowns on my part. Reason two, the organization of the game was terrible. Maybe I'm spoiled by the well run poker room that the League has (thanks in large part to it's members), but I felt somewhat responsible for trying to keep the game moving. There were barely enough chips for everyone and they came in 7 denominations! Rebuying was a chore as we tried to scrape $500 in various chips each time someone bought back in. The cards were substandard Bicycle cards and they were prone to bending. There was no blind clock, so blinds went up whenever the table felt like it. People were cross-talking and not paying attention to the action, so it was a hassle to keep the game moving faster than a snail's pace. All of this added up to a frustrating session, which ultimately ended up in a satisfying manner.

How so? Well, I cashed, that's how! In my experience, playing a rebuy tournament where people are playing this loosely, the best way to accumulate chips is to tighten up and wait for a solid hand. You will most likely get called when you hit something and you can double up quickly. This happened to me in the second hand of the night when I called a small pre-flop raise with As4s and the flop came 3s 5s 6s. I had flopped the nut flush and the straight flush draw!. I made a half pot bet and got a call and a raise. I called and the other player called. The flop came a beautiful 4h. Now a 2 or a 7 made a dead straight and I could pick up some real chips. This is exactly what happened when Matt moved all in with a 2s in his hand and I called with the nuts. All of a sudden, I was in the chip lead.

But the chip lead is overrated in a re-buy game. I had to sit on my stack for awhile in order not to bleed off chips. I was determined not to have to rebuy. My only other big hand that paid off was a K-little suited that I got into cheaply in the big blind. I flopped two pair with an A on board and Thomas bet out. I absolutely hate bottom two pair situations, so I made some sort of big reraise and Thomas made an excellent laydown, flashing A-T. After that, it was a waiting game for a while. Eventually, the hour got later and when we shut down the re-buys, the other players started dropping off one by one. Darko suffered a bad beat at the hands of Scott when, with 7h7s, Darko moved all in with Ac Kh Jc on board. A very gutsy bluff considering there had been action pre-flop. There was one other person in the hand, who folded, and Scott made the call showing an incredible 7d7c! At this point, Darko has a 0% chance to win the pot outright but only a 4.5% chance to lose if Scott makes his runner runner four flush. Sure enough, the two clubs came out and Scott became chip leader after surviving an awful call. But that's poker for ya.

Soon, it was an All League battle for the money with Thomas, myself and Scott in a battle for bubble boy. Scott, in particular, was making some very interesting all in moves and flashing some huge bluffs. For example, I had 66 which I raised pre-flop with and Scott called. The flop came down 955. I checked, too timidly as it turns out, and Scott moved all in. I folded and showed my cards. Scott collected his chips and showed 84o. Nice move. Later on, in the big blind, I got QhJh. Thomas, on the button with the small stack, moved all in. Scott, with the big stack in the small blind, called. Cursing my luck, I folded. I really wanted to play these cards against Thomas who was down to about 900 in chips. Scott showed Ac7c and Thomas showed pocket 10's. The flop would have given me two pair and the turn a full house! But I wasn't in and Thomas scooped the pot. I eventually fought back to the point where I was a slight chip leader and we all decided, at 11:20PM to chop the pot 3 ways. There was $425 in the pot so we split it up at $140 each with the extra $5 going to me for being the big stack. Juicy and Sweet.

Good night overall.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Online poker officially illegal (nearly)

So they went and did it. The House of Representatives has officially passed House Resolution #4411 (Link to text of the resolution), which officially prohibits online gambling. In the past, the legal status of internet poker was up in the air. Some folks thought that the Wire Act of 1961 (year?) covered it, but that law was passed specifically to prohibit the mob from running betting rings by telephone. The language of the act didn't seem to cover internet gambling in any way. The current House resolution is an update to the Wire Act and the language leaves nothing to the imagination.

The Act, fortunately, does not become law until Congress has a go at it. It is unclear how this will go. In the past, Congress has defeated such bills but that was due in large measure to the lobbying efforts of Jack Abramoff, who is now in jail on charges of bribery. Mr. Abramoff represented commercial and Indian casinos and worked very hard to defeat the previous attempts to ban online gambling in order to give his clients a clear shot at it. The idea was to push regulated online gambling the way England does and then tax it in the same manner that Vegas and Atlantic City tax gambling in their jurisdictions. Unfortunately, our prohibitionist society is not up for that challenge.

So where does that leave us poker players? Currently, we're in the clear. We still have to wait for Congress to act and then the President has to sign the act into law, which he most certainly will do if it passes. If that happens, playing poker online from the US will become very difficult. The act authorizes banks to stop any transactions involving online sites. How this will affect sites like Netteller and Firepay, which act as the intermediaries to fund your online poker accounts, is unclear. Banks have been reluctant to issue blanket stops on transactions from online escrow accounts because those site also carry legitimate business and there is no way to tell what the money back and forth is for/from. This act, however, will give the banks broader powers to investigate this. More importantly, since it explictly makes online gambling illegal, your ISP's might be coerced into blocking access to sites like PartyPoker and UltimateBet much the same way that your job currently does.

Whew. It's a good thing I just decided to stop online poker, right?

Seriously though, this could put a huge crimp in the demand for poker. There is no question that easy access to online poker is fueling the boom we are currently experiencing. Joe Hachem was interviewed in Bluff magazine this month saying he expects the World Series Main Event to draw between 8,000 and 8,800 players this year! Those kind of numbers cannot be had without millions of online players feeding the sattelite tournaments that get the majority of those players their 10,000 dollar buy-ins. If those sites cease to exist in the US, players will be forced to resort to standard casino gambling. In the Tr-State area, this means Atlantic City, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. Between the three of them, you're talking no more than 1600 seats for the entire population of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut! My prediction is that if this act passes, we're going to see an explosion in the number of underground poker rooms in New York and a HUGE demand for the kind of home games that we are having.

Saturday, July 8, 2006

I'm done with online poker

Well, that's it for me. I've officially drained my Ultimate Bet account of it's last bit of photonic money. I'm not writing this in haste or anger either (although I had some stupidly bad beats and situations online in the last few weeks). No, this is purely a matter of looking at my stats.

According to my stats sheet, which I have been keeping religiously since September 2005), I have made $1770.50 in live poker play. That includes our little home game, trips to Vegas and AC and other home games I've attended. In the same span of time, I have lost exactly $1737.04 in online poker play at Ultimate Bet, Poker Stars and Party Poker. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that I'm much better at one of these things than I am at the other.

The exact breakdowns are as such:

Sum of P/L  
Live GameTournament$1,389.00
 1-2 NL$319.50
 .25-.50 NL$241.00
 2 Straight$27.00
 .50-1 NL($50.00)
 .05-.10 NL($10.00)
 .10-.25 NL($25.00)
UltimateBet.Com.25-.50 NL$89.77
 .01-.02 NL$0.44
 .10-.25 NL($5.65)
 .50-1 NL($11.75)
 1-2 NL($169.54)

So what can account for the massive differences in P/L over a 1 year span and 478 hours of play? I think it has to do with two factors:
1. When playing online, I am MUCH more inclined to pay attention to things other than poker. I frequently find myself opening other windows, paying bills, watching TV, etc... In live games, when I am out of a hand, I usually find myself concentrating on other players. This is especially true in casinos where there is little else to do. Online, this is not an option.
2. Playing against live players gives me an opportunity to play amateur psychologist. I try to size up opponents based on there mannerisms, their dress, vocal patterns, inflection, movements, and other things that I can observe. There is NONE of this online and I think it's difficult for me to play with such little information. Yes, betting patterns are information, but they are the only information you get online (except for the occasional written comment). I believe this is why professionals spend so much time acting robotic. By removing extraneous information, other players can only judge you based on what you bet.

So that's it, I'm done. I refuse to reload my account with real money. However, this is going to force me to think very hard about attaining my stated goal of attending the World Series of Poker Main Event next year. I don't think I'm going to make $10,000 playing in our league! My guess is I'm going to have to start making regular trips to AC. Hmmm... Back to the drawing board.

Sunday, July 2, 2006

The dangers of No Limit

I finished an ungodly session online a few hours ago where I drained nearly my whole online account in about 45 minutes. I bought into a $1-$2 NL game for $150 and got AJ in the BB for my very first hand. The flop came J 9 2 rainbow. I bet out and got a call. The turn came a Q. I bet out and got a reraise and I called again. The river was a rag and he bet half pot which I had to call. He had QJ. Ok, so I lost a whole bunch of money on my first hand. No problem. It happens. On my next hand, I get AQ in the small blind. I bet out and get another raiser! Someone calls him and I call. The flop comes A 9 6. I bet big, I get two all ins. I call to find AA (!) and KJ (?). Bam! My buy-in is gone in two hands.
Do I just log off and go about my day? Of course not. I'm a moron. I reload for another $200 and proceed to lose that. How did that happen? Well, I got AJ again. This hand isn't doing me any favors today. The usual occurs. I bet out and get one caller. Nothing unusual about that. The flop comes J65 with two diamonds. I bet out twice the pot, not wanting to get a flush draw. He comes WAY over the top with $65, which is about 3X what I had bet. I smell a flush draw. True, my instincts haven't been good lately about this but I smell the draw. It's a big bet for me to call and he's trying to advertise an overpair. But he didn't reraise me pre-flop. His pair would have to be QQ, KK or AA for him to be making this bet. If he had a made set right now, he wouldn't want to chase me away, unless he thought I was on the flush draw. But I'm not betting a flush draw, because I raised preflop which isn't usual in flush draw situations. True, I could have had AK or AQ of diamonds, but most people wouldn't risk this much money if they had the made hand and they thought I was drawing. So I'm still smelling his flush draw. I re-raise him all in for his entire stack of $132. He calls. He's got 6d7d. Wow! He's got a flush draw (not surprised), but it's only 7 high! This guy's got a lot of stones to be risking his stack on a 7 high flush draw. Meanwhile, the turn is a blank and the river is the inevitable diamond which doubles him up and crushes my spirit.
The rest of the session was marked by people making fun of me ("look at the donkey", "please reload donkinator", etc...) and me going a bit on tilt trying to win back some of this money.
So today's lesson is: set a limit for yourself and don't chase your losses. It seems so easy and I've done it a million times, but when your initial session lasts 2 friggin hands you want to get some value for your money! So I bought in and lost. Sigh....
Meanwhile, I've been doing my stats and I'm about even for all of my play since September of last year! More interesting is that the profit/loss is almost exactly split between live games and online games. For every dollar I make in a live game (the League games, AC, Vegas), I lost a dollar online. I don't think the online games are rigged, I just think I suck at them. Maybe it's time to just start making regular trips to AC and close down my online account. It's almost empty anyway. It was down to $25 this morning, although I doubled it to $53 an hour ago. Woohoo! :-)