Friday, April 30, 2010

Adage of the day

"When you're telling a story to someone, make sure that both parties are speaking the same language" - ME

I dealt a charity poker tournament two nights ago for a school in Harlem called the Children's Storefront, an excellent institution which offers completely free education to needy kids. It's a wonderful institution which serves a great need in the community and I'm proud to be able to help out in any way I can.

It's also a lot of fun. The organizer of the charity tournament, with whom I've worked for 4 years now, goes all out (or all-in?) for this event and we had 260 players at the Hudson Terrace event space. A bunch of sports and poker celebrities were in attendance, including Justin Tuck, Jeff Nelson, Robert and Olga Varkonyi and Roy Winston. The tournament has an awful structure, as most charity tournaments do, but the money goes directly to the school so there isn't a lot of complaining (except from one incredible asshole who makes it deep every year and constantly bitches about how badly the tournament is run). Prizes are donated and can be substantial. First prize this year was a 7 night stay at a high end Aspen, CO hotel and 100,000 American Express points to use for airfare. 2nd place was a weekend in an East Hampton's mansion on the beach. And the other 7 prizes were equally worthy of inclusion.

As a poker player, I abhor charity tournaments. It's fine to play in one with the understanding that you're basically making a donation to the charity. But if you go into it thinking you have an edge on the clueless players in attendance (some of whom have never played before), then you're asking for disappointment. Charity tournaments, and this one was no exception, suffer from a multitude of major problems; strictly speaking from a poker perspective.

1. They're poorly organized - Though the tournament I dealt went off somewhat smoothly, compared to previous incarnations, there were a couple of organizational issues. First, the dealers were not informed ahead of time as to how the buy-ins worked. Each players, when they bought into the tournament, received a green plastic chip as proof of their buy-in. I was told, at various times, that chip was supposed to be surrendered so I could give them their starting stack OR the chip represented an extra $500 in tournament chips OR the chip was a full rebuy. In addition, I was presented with a lavender chip from a player and was informed that it was a rebuy chip and it was worth either $3,000, $3,500 or $4,000 in chips. Confusion was rampant. Also, rebuy rules were not explicitly defined. Someone told me that we wouldn't be allowing rebuys unless the player was under their starting stack. But what was the starting stack, since add-ons were allowed from the start. With nothing to go on, I allowed all players at my table to rebuy at any level, rationalizing that this was for charity after all and the add-ons were important to the school's functioning. But from a poker perspective, that sucks. Oh, the dealers also weren't given extra chips for players, so when they rebought in the middle of the round, they were often sitting with no chips in front of them! I had to make change from other players constantly.

2. The blind structure is a toss-up - At the start of the tournament, starting stacks averaged around $5,000 (given add-ons) and blinds were $100-$200. Blinds were supposed to go up every 20 minutes and rebuys were supposed to be allowed for the first hour. But by the end of the 3rd level, the tournament organizer decided that not enough people had rebought. So he extended the 3rd level for 30 minutes to allow for more re-buys! It was comical. I understand why he did it, but from a poker player's point of view, taking liberties with the tournament structure in the middle of the tournament is taboo. How could a poker player plan his strategy if he doesn't know what the blinds will be from one hand to another? Also, as happens every year, there are too many players left at the end of the night. With 30 minutes left until we had to vacate the premises, there were still 3 full tables left and the average stack had an M of around 6. That wouldn't do. Out of nowhere, blinds started being raised around every 3 minutes until the average M dropped to 2 and it was a complete luck-fest. This, not coincidentally, is when Mr. Asshole started bitching the loudest. He was sucked out on before the final table, thank the lord.

So charity tournaments aren't a good proposition from a profit point of view, even given the incredibly poor play and low skill level of the average attendant. Case in point, Roy Winston was at my table and decided to shove his stack on a flush draw. A woman called with a pair of 2's (!) and won the pot, eliminating the 2007 Borgata Main Event winner. I saw a lot of skilled players swing through my table and attempt complicated plays and bluffs against players and get called every time. Which brings me back to my maxim at the top of the post. If you're telling a story in a hand of poker, make sure the person you're telling it to speaks the same language you do!

I see this a lot in Atlantic City, Vegas and anywhere poker is being played. Person A, an obviously skilled participant is the best player at his/her table. However, A's chipstack is swinging wildly up and down. Usually the culprit is A's tendency to try and run over the table. What a lot of poker player's forget, however, is that bluffing only works when the person you're running the bluff against is good enough to understand the hand you're trying to represent! This is why beginners don't fold to bluffs very often; they're playing their own hand and haven't formed the first opinion on what you have. What person A is missing, and what all poker players need to work on, is to categorize your opponent's first. Learn who is good enough to fold a good hand and who's going to stay in if they have any piece of the board. Who's going to play back at you and who's going to pick a better spot. In short, who's speaking your language.


Memphis MOJO said...

I saw a lot of skilled players swing through my table and attempt complicated plays and bluffs against players and get called every time.

I've even seen this in regular tournaments. This during the last WSOP Circuit event I played: Board had A-x-x, player A checked, traveling pro bet. Turn was another X and same thing. River was an X, and Player A checked again, traveling pro moved all in and was called by A-8 which was a winner.

Don't bluff the unbluffable.

HighOnPoker said...

Another reason to hate charity tournaments: If you run good, you are wasting luck on a friggin' charity tournament.

Here's another one: If there is a prize pool, there are societal pressures to donate your winnings back to the charity anyway.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

thx u very much, i learn a lot