KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the category “Poker scene”

David and Goliath

“The excessive use of force creates legitimacy problems, and force without legitimacy leads to defiance, not submission.”

This quote comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s wonderful book, David and Goliath, which I just finished re-reading.  I posted it on Facebook; one of my friends commented “poker betting philosophy.”

Upon reading the quote again, yes, it definitely applies to poker.

The Facebook post was a follow-on to an earlier post of another quote from David and Goliath:  “When people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters – first and foremost – how they behave.”

Reading this “principle of legitimacy” on a fall Sunday afternoon brought to mind the ongoing civil disobedience of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem as a symbolic protest against racial injustice perpetrated by some law enforcement organizations.  It’s broader now, but that’s how it started.  POTUS and some team owners have attempted to force these football players to behave (i.e., stand during the anthem), even while their own behavior fails to create the necessary legitimacy.  Consequently (and predictably if you follow Gladwell’s reasoning), the number of NFL players protesting has increased.

Gladwell raises this concept in chapters about the decades-long conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, law enforcement strategies in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, pockets of French resistance to the Nazis during WWII, and the U.S. civil rights movement.

To be clear, poker is by far the least of our worries when considering the relationship between force and legitimacy.

In 1969, two RAND Corporation economists wrote a report on dealing with insurgencies.  It was based on a fundamental, yet fatally flawed assumption, “that the population, as individuals or group, behaves ‘rationally,’ that it calculates costs and benefits to the extent that they can be related to different courses of action, and makes choices accordingly… Consequently, influencing popular behavior requires neither sympathy nor mysticism, but rather a better understanding of what costs and benefits the individual or group is concerned with, and how they are calculated.”

Sure, just treat disobedient Irish Catholics, Brownsville hoodlums, French villagers, civil rights activists and pro football players like a math problem.  Make the cost of their insurgent behavior greater than the benefits, via use of excessive force, and they will stop.  Doesn’t everybody pencil out a few economic cost-benefit equations before starting a riot?

Uh… no.

There is a lot to learn here.

Back to poker.  Next time you are bluffing, ask yourself if you have established the legitimacy that leads to submission rather than defiance.  If your bluffs aren’t working, it might be more than just a math problem.


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MGM Hates Poker Players – This is How We Know

NOTE:  This entry was originally posted on a different site on March 13, 2017 and has been slightly edited prior to re-posting here.

I hate being a hater, but MGM National Harbor’s poker comps system hates me back.

Last week I played poker nearly every day at this new poker room.  Overall, it is excellent – spacious, comfortable, lots of action, competent staff and worthy of an overall highly favorable review.  I’ll definitely go there again.

At a comp rate of $2/hour, I earned some decent meal money.  Every so often, I get hungry.  When I get hungry, I want to eat.  The casino has an excellent variety of food options, all at resort prices.  To offset MGM’s resort prices, I want to use the comp dollars as much as possible.

Seems simple, right?

If you order food at the table, to eat while still playing poker, it goes like this… Realizing you are hungry, you ask a server for a food menu.  The server explains that there are separate food servers, and the beverage servers do not handle food.  Look for a server with a purple shirt and black vest.  Not seeing any, you ask the dealer if they can help locate a server.  No problem says the dealer, and he pressed a button on his control panel beneath the letter F (representing a special 4-letter “F-word,” of course I’m talking about Food) and a light goes on.  That should do it.  About 20 or 30 minutes later, a food server appears, looking sharp in a purple shirt and black vest.  The food menu is limited to a few options from each of the places in a food court, which includes a seafood vendor, fried chicken and donuts vendor, pizza, mexican, sushi, deli, Asian, ice cream shop, and Shake Shack.  Except not the Shake Shack or the ice cream shop.  And not everything at the other places, just 3 or 4 options from each.

I decide to go with the spring rolls from the Asian place.  I give the food server my mLife card (MGM’s customer rewards program is called mLife) and show my ID, and all is good.  40 minutes later, the server returns and asks me if I ordered spring rolls.  “Why yes I most certainly did, and I’m really looking forward to them.”  “Sorry, they’re out of them.  Would you like to see the menu again?”  Hungry turns into Hangry.  I go for the chicken tenders. Another 40 minutes later it is now nearly 2 full hours after the first hunger pains, my chicken tenders and fries arrive and I don’t really care how they taste.  My comps paid for it, and the server returns my mLife card.

For dining at the table, start the process at least an hour before you will be hungry.

But maybe you don’t want to eat at the table.  Maybe you want something that isn’t on the limited table service menu, or want to dine at one of the fancier restaurants and not the food court or you really like the Shake Shack.

In that case, you have to go to the poker check-in desk and ask the staff to transfer a portion of your comps balance, which is tracked on your mLife card, to a different category or bin or account which is also tracked on the same mLife card, in order to be able to use it at the food court or any of the fancy restaurants.  With a line of people growing behind you, the conversation goes like this:

Poker staff:  Where you are going to eat?

Me:  I’m not sure… I’m going to walk down to the food court and see what looks good.

Poker staff:  OK, that’s called The District.  I can do that, as long as you aren’t going to the Shake Shack.  If you plan to eat at the Shake Shack, I have to do it one way, because Shake Shack isn’t owned by the casino.  For the rest of The District, I have to do it another way.

Me:  Are you shitting me?

Poker staff:  No.  That’s really how we have to do it.

Me:  Out of curiosity, what if I wanted to eat at one of the fancy restaurants, like Jose Andres’ place?

Poker staff:  Then I have to specify which restaurant, just let me know and I can handle it.

Me:  I hear the Shake Shack is really good, but I haven’t been there yet and haven’t even looked at their menu.  I guess I’ll pass on that for today and eat somewhere else in the food court.

Poker staff:  How many dollars do you want transferred?

Me:  I don’t know… I’m still not sure what I’m going to get.  Does it matter?  If you transfer extra, the unused balance will be available to use later, right?

Poker staff:  Wrong.  Let’s say I transfer $20.  This is only good for one transaction.  If you only use $15, the $5 unused portion of your comps is forfeited.

Me:  Are you shitting me?

Poker staff:  No.  If you know what you are going to get and how much it will cost, you can transfer the exact amount.  Or you can guess and probably want to guess on the low side so you don’t forfeit any of your comps.

Me:  [glance over my shoulder, line is getting longer]  Uh… I guess transfer ten bucks and I’ll figure it out.  The food court is a couple hundred yards away, and I don’t want to walk down there just to plan my meal so I can walk back over here and wait in line to do this again so I can walk back over there to eat.

Poker staff:  You got it, my man.  Give me just a few seconds.  [He swipes my mLife card through a card reader, enters about the same number of keystrokes as a rental car clerk setting up a new reservation, then swipes my mLife card through a different card reader, a few more keystrokes, a fake smile and off I go.]

It’s clear that the poker room management didn’t design this system themselves.  I feel sorry for them.  Not every customer is as delightful to deal with as me.  The line moves slowly, including mostly players who just want to sign up to get on a waiting list.

The next day, while walking to a restroom, I pass by a glass door with a sign that says Casino Host & Credit.  On the way back, I decide to go inside and see if that would be the proper place to provide a little customer feedback.  There is a management looking guy standing by the door, wearing a suit and MGM nametag.  He looks very official.  For purposes of this blog entry, I’ll refer to him as “Vlad.”

I ask Vlad if the casino is interested in hearing feedback from customers about their experience there.  Yes, he says.  I ask where I should go to provide some, and Vlad says “you can talk to me.”  We are not inside the office, but outside the office near slot machines and other gaming.  With head-thumping music blaring.  Vlad does not invite me into a quieter place to talk.

Trying to explain that I feel sorry for the poker room staff who have to deal with this cumbersome system and resulting hangry customers, and that we’re all frustrated by the lack of integration of the poker comps system with the rest of the casino, I lay out my case.  I probably look highly agitated.  Partly because there is a very high base noise level and I practically have to shout just to be heard.  Partly because I am highly agitated.

When I reach a pause, Vlad responds.  First he explains that he has no involvement in running the poker room.  He knows their comp system is separate, but doesn’t know how it works, the rate at which comps are earned or any other details whatsoever.  But it’s that way because the poker room isn’t profitable and doesn’t make any money for the casino.  Then he explains that if it were up to him – and Vlad wants me to know that he’s worked in the casino industry in Atlantic City for over 25 years – there would be no poker room at all.  In Vlad’s opinion, poker is a waste of valuable casino space that could make a lot of money if it was used differently.

Translation:  Dear customer, if it was up to me, you would not be our customer!  So it is OK with me that the part of our business that you patronize is systematically pissing you off.

We actually chat for about 20 more minutes.  Vlad isn’t unpleasant; he just knows where he stands and isn’t shy about it.

My points goes like this:

  • If it was up to Vlad, there would be no poker room, right?  [Vlad:  right.]
  • But there is a poker room, so that means somebody other than you decided there should be one, right?  [Vlad:  right.]
  • And that makes the poker players in that poker room a subset of all of the customers of this glorious MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino, right?  [Vlad:  right.]
  • The poker room provides comp credits to its players, right?  Whatever the formula is, it is a non-zero amount.  [Vlad:  right.]
  • So if you are going to have a poker room and give the players comp dollars, why – when spending $1.2 billion dollars to build this place – would you design a comps system that systematically frustrates the poker room staff as it also systematically pisses off that subset of your customers?  [Vlad:  uh…]

Vlad gives me a long explanation of comps, how some comp dollars are automatically generated as a by-product of each game based on the amount of time and stakes played, and other comps are awarded at management discretion so he can give some extra meal money to some poor schmuck who loses his entire wad really fast.  All of which applies only to the non-poker parts of the casino.

As for the poker room, Vlad maintains that he doesn’t have anything to do with it, doesn’t know how it operates, but a different system is justified based on the bad economics of poker rooms for casinos.

The same approach to using poker room comps is used at all MGM properties.  At the Aria or Bellagio, however, you have to go to a different desk and not the player check-in desk, and get a paper voucher for the amount of comp dollars you want to use (or lose).  And poker comps earned at one MGM property can only be used at that property – you cannot use Aria poker comps to buy food at Bellagio or MGM Grand and vice versa.  It is equally maddening for the players, although not quite as bad as forcing the check-in desk to handle the comps too.

Given MGM’s otherwise strong commitment to poker, with large and active poker rooms in many of their properties (Bellagio and Aria are among the top poker rooms in Las Vegas; MGM National Harbor is now one of the largest poker rooms on the east coast), it is beyond my comprehension that they don’t integrate the poker comps with the rest of the gaming areas.  Maryland Live! does.  Caesar’s/Harrah’s/Horseshoe does.  Other casinos do.

Reader comments welcome below…


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Hanging with D-Wade and Queen Bey

NOTE:  This entry was originally posted on a different site on September 3, 2016 and has been slightly edited prior to re-posting here.

It’s poker night.

I show up at a private house game where I’m one of the regulars.  We play in our host’s garage.

Shortly after the game starts, a new player arrives, a young black man who resembles NBA star Dwyane Wade.  I know this because later, on the TV, I can see ABC News’ George Stephanopolous interviewing Dwyane Wade in the aftermath of the tragic shooting death of his cousin in Chicago.  The TV is right above this new player and I notice a strong resemblance, so for purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Dwyane.”

When he first arrived, Dwyane looked familiar and I thought I might have played poker with him one or two times previously, but now I’m not so sure.  He’s wearing shorts that hang down below his knees and look like they are two sizes too large in the waist.  I just don’t get that look, but seriously, I try not to judge.  Once I even tried wearing my pants positioned where the belt loops are just below the fattest part of my butt cheeks (only at home, alone).  It was not comfortable.  The slightest breeze, movement or bump into something could collapse my pants down around my ankles before I would have time to react.  If there is something about that style of dress that I was missing, I’m still missing it.

The other thing noteworthy about Dwyane’s appearance is his cap, which at first glance appears to be a military reference, but actually says “STRIPCLUB VETERAN” across the front.

I try not to judge.

The thing is, Dwyane has brought a female friend with him, and we can only assume this to be his girlfriend.  She was strikingly attractive, with longer, curly, well-coiffed hair that reminded me of Beyonce, only with darker skin and wearing yoga pants.  I’m not one to know these things, but if someone told me Dwyane’s girlfriend had undertaken some artificial booty enhancement, I would believe it to be true.  Whoever started the trend of women wearing yoga pants as everyday apparel deserves to be rich and famous, with a special place in heaven.

Lacking any other name to use, for purposes of this blog, I’ll call her “Bey.”

Bey sits very quietly behind Dwyane and watches him play poker.  Occasionally she moves from the back of his left shoulder to the right side.  For about 59 out of every 60 seconds, she is pulling or rearranging a couple of strands of hair in the front, rubbing off the hair product holding her beautiful curls in place.  She is left with a few strands of frizz among a sea of curls.  I wish I had a time-lapse video.

No introductions are made, so perhaps this isn’t Bey’s first appearance here and I’m the one who is slightly out of the loop.  That would be normal.

Nevertheless, here we are.  Bey is the only female present, not playing poker but just watching, not talking other than some infrequent and inaudible words with Dwyane, smoking hot, and Dwyane is still wearing his STRIPCLUB VETERAN cap and has to grab his shorts every time he stands up.

He gets a run of good hands and after an hour or so, Dwyane is up approximately $250.  I feel this very strong urge to say something.  Like:  “Hey ‘Dwyane,’ why don’t you take your winnings and buy ‘Bey’ a very nice dinner, then see if y’all can find something else to do?  Oh yeah, and lose the hat!”  With a wink and extra emphasis on the word something.

But I try not to judge, and keep quiet.

Our host always provides something for the players to eat, and tonight it is chicken stir fry from a Japanese takeout place.  Dwyane brings a full plate over to the table, and a few minutes later I hear him encouraging Bey to have some too.  I had dinner before arriving, so I passed on the food.  It might have been delicious.  Although our host insisted that it was a medium-priced Japanese chicken stir-fry, from a distance is looked like the stuff you get when you have to search for coins in the sofa cushions so you can afford the cheapest Chinese takeout in town.

I need to learn not to judge.

Mrs. is probably right when she observes that I’m not so great at dating anymore (nor was I ever).  But tonight, I’m feeling pretty darn confident in my “what not to do on a date” reads at this poker game.

Around 1:00 a.m. I am leaving.  Dwyane and Bey are still there.  His winnings have turned into a loss.  Rather than top off his stack, he continues to play with a single, short stack of chips in front.  Bey looks bored with everything other than those strands of hair she keeps stroking, determined to get the last bit of hair product out of there.

I consider offering Bey a ride home, but it occurs to me that at least one of them may have some major insecurities about their relationship.  Besides, how would I start a conversation:  “Do you know about Beyonce?  My step-mother calls her “BEE-yonce” but my father calls her “Be-YON-see.”

Nah, that would never work.  I make a mental note to say something nice to Mrs. tomorrow morning.


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Urban Dictionary

The Urban Dictionary is one of my favorite smartphone apps.  I frequently use it to look up unfamiliar words or phrases at poker games.  As noted in other posts, I’m a Middle-Aged White Guy (MAWG).  I don’t watch many TV shows or movies so I’m constantly behind the curve when it comes to pop culture.  Rather than suffer the embarrassment of asking questions like “What does ‘motorboating’ mean?” as another poker player did last week, I can simply look it up (although I already knew this one).  Sometimes I’ll take a quick screen shot and send it via text message to Mrs., who is even further behind the pop culture curve than I am.

At a recent poker game, one of the players brought a small gift for another player.  These are long-time regulars at a private house game, where relationships tend to become much friendlier than in casino poker rooms.  The giver was a middle-aged white woman who, for purposes of this blog, I’ll call “Angie.”  She brought a wooden box, about the size of a milk crate, that appeared to be handmade, with the logo and motto of the United States Marine Corps emblazoned in several places, leather handles, a small tray that rests at the top inside, and a larger storage compartment underneath the tray.

The recipient of this very nice gift is a military veteran whose son is currently serving in the Marine Corps.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Fred.”  Fred was very flattered by this gift and looking forward to sharing it with his son.

The box was sitting in a side room, away from the poker table, when Angie asked Fred, quite loudly, “Don’t you think everyone would like to see my box?”

A bit of laughter and giggling erupted throughout the room, but Fred calmly replied, “Yes, I think they would” and went to get the box and bring it into the poker room.

When he returned, Fred said something to the effect of “Angie, I just want you and everyone else to know that I think your box is beautiful.”

More laughter, while Angie just beamed and looked very pleased with herself, which led to series of increasingly sarcastic sounding compliments about her box.

It quickly became apparent to me and several others that the people laughing the hardest were thinking about the Urban Dictionary definition of Box (which I learned back in high school), while Angie was only referring to the cube-shaped wooden container pictured above.

Poor Angie.  This went on for 10-15 minutes until Angie asked why everyone seemed to think her box was so funny.  “Is there some other meaning of ‘box’ that I’m not aware of?”

I told her the best way to explain this would be to lookup Box in the Urban Dictionary, which I quickly did and slid my phone across the table.

(dramatic pause…)

“Oh!  My!  Gawd!”  










I have to give Angie credit for being an incredibly good sport once the “cat was out of the box” so to speak, if you know what I mean.  Hopefully she’ll download the Urban Dictionary app and use it wisely.


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