KKing David

Ruminations on poker

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Fear and Loathing (and Shooting) in Las Vegas

Today’s news is dominated by last night’s mass shooting on the Las Vegas strip, leaving at least 58 people dead and over 500 injured. At the time I’m writing this, it is believed there was a lone gunman, a 64-year-old retired accountant named Stephen Paddock, who lived about 80 miles away and was shooting from a 32nd floor hotel room at Mandalay Bay, targeting a nearby outdoor country music concert.

I’m struggling to come up with the words to describe what I’m feeling, yet feel the need to say something. For starters, heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones of the victims, and prayers for healing to the injured. The words are inadequate; the emotions run much deeper.

More feelings about the shooter, his motivation, the ongoing political posturing about gun rights and restrictions, the pendulum that swings between individual rights and societal good, mental health, what it is that makes someone snap, cognitive and moral biases. Fear and loathing.  Can we ever feel safe again?

In the Declaration of Independence, our nation’s founding fathers declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” What happens with one person’s Life collides with others’ Liberty or pursuit of Happiness? What other unalienable Rights did that Congress have in mind but decide not to enumerate?  How can we possibly reconcile the victims’ unalienable Rights?

Las Vegas is especially vulnerable to events like this. It hosts many events that concentrate thousands of people together – concerts, conventions, sporting events (which will grow with the addition of an NHL team this fall and NFL team next year), and more.

I’ve been to Vegas many times, starting in 1998 and including six visits over the last three years.  I traveled there with many different friends – Greg, Jack, Jay, Jeff, Jonathan, Mike, Tom, Tony, and Zach and others.

Several times for business conferences, and other times just to play poker. I’ve stayed at the Aria, Bellagio, Bill’s Gambling Hall and Saloon (now the Cromwell), Flamingo, Harrah’s, Linq, Mirage, Palms, Rio, Wild Wild West, and the Wynn.

I’ve also played poker at Binion’s, Caesar’s Palace, Circus Circus, Golden Nugget, Mandalay Bay (just once!), MGM Grand, Monte Carlo, Planet Hollywood and Riviera.

I’ve attended a very large conference at the Las Vegas convention center (18,000 people) and a basketball game at T-Mobile Arena (19,000), and three World Series of Poker.

There is more to say but the words won’t flow.  Now what?  I just don’t know…

UPDATE:  Next day.  The death toll is higher.

The debate about gun rights and gun control has fascinated me for over 40 years.  After the massacre, Caleb Keeter, a guitarist for the Josh Abbott Band that was onstage when the shooting began, tweeted that the event changed his mind about gun control.  This is rare.  Below are a few links to stories that speak to my feelings on this issue.  I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind, nor do I mean to disparage those who attach high value to gun ownership or their interpretation of their constitutional rights to “bear arms.”

(I’ve read the constitution, and studied some of its history.  The Second Amendment had a dual purpose for the authors of the Bill of Rights.  First, there was no permanent military or standing army at the time.  During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army didn’t have any weapons to issue to citizens who joined the fight but had no firearms of their own to bring with them into service.  Secondly, the language was an appeasement to slaveholders in the south to secure their votes for the entire Bill of Rights.  The southerners wanted to ensure they would not lose the ability – through future acts of Congress – to employ slave patrols (A/K/A “militias”) to intimidate slaves and prevent rebellions.  Neither the absence of a permanent military nor the presence of slavery remains as a justification for the Second Amendment.)

From a satire perspective, the Onion wrote this headline:  No Way to Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.

In The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky pointed out the ironic juxtaposition of politics under this headline:  The GOP’s Twisted Reality, Where Guns Are a Right But Health Care is a Privilege.

The approaches to public safety in Australia (no mass shootings since 1998 law dramatically restricting gun ownership following the Port Arthur massacre) and Japan (six gun deaths in 2014, with a population more than 1/3 that of the U.S.) are held up as examples of extreme successes in reducing deaths from gun violence.  Under-appreciated is the corresponding reduction in suicide rates.

And from Vox, Gun violence in America, explained in 17 maps and charts.  In a nutshell, the presence of more guns leads to more gun deaths.  The prepping up of America is moving us in the wrong direction.

Oh yes, dear readers, please use the buttons below to like / share / tweet etc. if you are so inclined.

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What Difference Does It Make?

Here is the setting, to be followed by a question:

I’m at a private poker game on Saturday night in someone’s garage.  The house takes a rake on this game and provides a dealer.  Most of the players are regulars and know each other quite well.  The game is no limit Texas Hold’em, with blinds at $1/2 and the buy-in is capped at $300.

The house uses the Mississippi Straddle rule, whereby a live straddle can be posted for any amount, in any position, which makes straddles from the button very common.  If two players both want to post a straddle, the player with last position has priority.

At this game, one player has been posting a $5 straddle virtually every time he has the button.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “John.”  Several hours into the game, John has the button but the player on his right – who I’ll call “Joe” – announces a straddle and places his $5 chip in front before John has a chance to do anything.  [Sorry about the boring names here – “John” and “Joe” – maybe I just don’t feel very creative right now, or maybe that’s a reflection of the material I have to work with.]

Joe had just returned from a short break, during which he missed his both of the blinds.  To get back in the game immediately, he is required to post the $3 he avoided by sitting out.  Alternatively, for $2 extra, he converts the entire amount into a straddle and reserve the right to act last in the pre-flop betting round.

Before the cards are dealt, someone remarks that John usually straddles when he has the button, and Joe offers to pull the extra $2 back if John wants to straddle again for this hand.  Instead, John says to Joe to leave his straddle out there; it’s no problem.  After the cards are dealt, John has to act first, and he calls the $5 straddle prior to looking at his cards.

Then John says, innocently, “What difference does it make?”

Somebody on the end of the table repeats this question and a couple others chuckle slightly, which makes me decide to posit the question here in the blog.  What difference does it make?

Let’s try making this an interactive blog post, by asking my dear readers to post comments answering John’s question.  What is John likely thinking when he asks “What difference does it make?”  Is there actually a difference, and if so what is it?  How should each player – and the other players at the table – adjust their thinking or actions in response to what Joe and John have said and done here?

Please leave your comments below.

Also, if you enjoy this blog, please follow / like / share / post / tweet all about it to help spread the word.

 

The Button Game

Where have I been all these years?  Last night I was introduced to the “Button Game,” a form of prop betting during a poker game that may have been around a long time and I just didn’t know about it.

As a quick side note, I have the Urban Dictionary app on my iPhone, which saves me occasional embarrassment from having to ask “What’s that?” about various pop culture expressions and acronyms.  Sometimes it’s hard for this MAWG to keep up.  As of this moment, however, the Button Game isn’t listed at UD.

Introduced by a long-time friend/villain known in this blog as “Myles” (previously mentioned in this blog here and here), the Button Game creates a side pot, or “kitty” that can only be won under certain conditions.  Each time a player wins a pot of $60 more more, that player adds $5 to the side pot, which accumulates in a cup that passes around the table along with the dealer button.  If the player on the button wins that pot, he or she also wins the kitty.  If not, the kitty moves with the button in front of the next player.  Of course, the amounts can be changed to whatever everyone at the table finds agreeable.

The first time the button reached me after we started the Button Game, there was $15 in the cup.  The cutoff raised to 6 BBs after a couple of limps.  I decided to call with Ah 3h, which I consider a very marginal calling hand at best, especially if the flop is going to be heads up.

The flop is A33 with two diamonds, giving me a full house.  She checks, so I check.

The turn is Td, making a flush a possibility.  She bets 5 BBs.  Perhaps she has a flush draw, even a nut flush draw with the Kd?  I make a min-raise to 10 BBs, and she calls.

The river is Jc.  Now she bets 20 BBs.  Hmmm… do we have a fish on the hook?  I raise to 50 BBs and she announces all-in.  Hmmm… might she have JJ or TT and a bigger full house?

This isn’t a time to get scared, and I quickly announce a call.  When she says “nuts!” I’m at first startled, then relieved to see that her nuts is the nut flush, with Kd 2d.  My full house wins a large pot, plus the $15 in the kitty.  I put $5 back in the kitty for the next hand and the button moves again.

Later on, I win the kitty two more times, once with $40 in it.  This prop bet game created a ton of extra action, with attempts by the button to steal offset by attempts from others to block the button from stealing, creating more pots in excess of $60 to build up the kitty, and so on.

Just tell me the rules, and I’ll try to figure out how to exploit it.  Of course, flopping a boat ain’t so bad.

Ethical Theories and Poker Players

Some ethical concepts came up in this recent post, where a woman pondering my all-in river bet said, “I fold, Will you show?”  I said, no, sorry I don’t show, then she replied, “In that case, I call,” sliding forward her calling chips and flipping over her cards.  My hand was good, the dealer pushed the chips towards me and I happily took the bounty from her apparent reversal of her initial decision.

Later, a couple of friends who were at the same table agreed they heard her to be making a declaratory statement of folding, rather than a conditional clause precedent to her questions, as in “If I fold, will you show?”  We debated how I would have reacted had I been bluffing.  Would I have insisted that “verbal is binding,” her words were declaratory, and the hand was over the instant she said “I fold”?  Would I get a favorable ruling on that?

We discussed then, and it came up again last week, whether this was an example of Situational Ethics.  Success in the game of poker requires developing and using skills at pattern recognition, probability theory, math, psychology, deception, self-discipline and anticipating human behavior better than our opponents.  More crudely, we seek to exploit others while avoiding being exploited ourselves to tilt the otherwise random distribution of 52 playing cards in our favor.

Each hand in a poker game presents a unique situation.  There are 1,326 combinations of two cards that you might be dealt in a Texas Holdem game. After removal of your cards, there are 1,225 combinations of the 50 remaining cards that a single opponent might be dealt.  For a second opponent, another 1,128 combinations, and so on depending on the number of players.  With a full table of nine players, 34 cards remain in the deck after the initial dealing.  Now there are 5,984 different combinations of a 3-card flop, followed by 31 possible turn cards and 30 possible river cards.  Add the differences in opponents’ skills and playing styles and everyone’s position at the table relative to the dealer button, and it’s impossible to try to develop a strategy for each exact situation.

When something non-standard happens, we have to figure out what to do, as when the woman seemed to declare her intent to fold to my river bet, then seemed to change her mind after I stated that I wouldn’t show my cards.  For many non-standard events, rules and protocols are clear, such as when a hole card is accidentally exposed during the dealing process.  Other times, not so much.  This can lead to disagreements with sizable sums of money at stake, most often with each player involved arguing for the resolution that results in his or her winning the most chips or losing the least amount possible.  Angle shooting, table talk, betting out of turn, prematurely exposed cards, dealer mistakes, outright cheating or collusion, etc. create non-standard events.  How often do you see players argue against their own self-interest?  While tempted to call this Situational Ethics (as I was first inclined), this label actually misses the mark.

Another non-standard event occurred at a different game recently.  The dealer thought both players had checked after the turn card, which left the board at 5d-4d-5s-2d.  He burned the next card and was in the act of turning over the river card when one of the players said “Wait!”  He had not in fact checked and he wanted to bet.  The dealer put the partially exposed river card back on top of the deck.  I saw the forthcoming river card was the Ad, but said nothing.  There was a bet, an all-in raise and a snap call.  The first player, who was at the far corner of the table where it was most unlikely that he saw the river card as the angle when it was partially exposed was facing away from him, had pocket fours for a full house.  The other player, who was in the line of sight where it was more possible that he saw the exposed card, had Kd 3d for a turned flush.

Then the river came, and the Ad gave the second player a straight flush and improbable win of a large pot.  His body language seemed too nonchalant for such a random/lucky outcome, however, which I mentioned to the host of the game later.  I cannot say for sure whether he saw the river card or not, but it was definitely a non-standard event that raises some questions.  Should I (or another player no longer involved in the action who later acknowledged seeing the river card) have interceded while the turn betting was taking place to insist that since I saw the card, it was possible that either or both players might have seen it and the prudent action would be to re-shuffle the remaining cards to re-randomize the river card?

To a non-philosopher, the term Situational Ethics would appear to apply here.  But having majored in philosophy in college (long, long ago), I thought it was worth some review.  According to Wikipedia:

Situational Ethics takes into account the particular context of an act when evaluating it ethically, rather than judging it according to absolute moral standards. In situation ethics, within each context, it is not a universal law that is to be followed, but the law of love.

Proponents of Situational Ethics refer to a biblical type of love that shows concern about others, caring for them as much as one cares for oneself.  The love is conceived as having no strings attached to it and seeking nothing in return; it is a totally unconditional love.

Joseph Fletcher, who became prominently associated with this approach in the English-speaking world due to his book (Situation Ethics), stated that “all laws and rules and principles and ideals and norms, are only contingent, only valid if they happen to serve love” in the particular situation, and thus may be broken or ignored if another course of action would achieve a more loving outcome.

A more accurate term for the ethics we most often see at a poker game is Ethical Egoism.  Again, we start with Wikipedia:

Ethical Egoism is the normative ethical position that moral agents ought to do what is in their own self-interest.  Ethical Egoism holds that one should not (as altruism does) sacrifice one’s own interests to help others’ interests, so long as one’s own interests are substantially equivalent to the others’ interests and well-being.

Yeah, that sounds more like poker players.

Ethical Egoism differs from psychological egoism, which claims that people can only act in their self-interest. Ethical Egoism also differs from rational egoism, which holds that it is rational to act in one’s self-interest. Ethical Egoism holds, therefore, that actions whose consequences will benefit the doer can be considered ethical in this sense.

Ethical egoism contrasts with ethical altruism, which holds that moral agents have an obligation to help others. Egoism and altruism both contrast with Utilitarianism, which holds that a moral agent should treat one’s self with no higher regard than one has for others, resulting in the so-called greatest good for the greatest number of people.

Ethical Egoism does not necessarily entail that, in pursuing self-interest, one ought always to do what one wants to do; e.g. in the long term, the fulfillment of short-term desires may prove detrimental to the self (in the case of poker players, actions that get you kicked out of a profitable game would be detrimental). 

Comments welcome…

Too Nitty? Disciplined Fold? Mandatory Call?

Click here to be redirected to the new home for this blog, and another new post.

Looking for some feedback on this one…

How Many Times Do You Want to Run It?

Dear Readers,

I’m moving this blog over to the blog section of http://www.anytwo.biz, my e-commerce store for the sale of some excellent custom poker t-shirts.

A new post is available here…

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,200 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 20 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog

Ralph E. Wolf and Sam Sheepdog are characters in a series of classic Looney Tunes cartoons that I enjoyed many, many years ago.

Ralph (apparently named after a Warner Bros. employee – Ralph Wolf) was modeled after the Wile E. Coyote character from the Road Runner series, with brown fur, a wiry body, huge ears, and a love for products from Acme Corporation.  Sam is a large, burly sheepdog with a mop of red hair covering his eyes, who is largely sedentary but with a knack for being at the right place at the right time.

According to Wikipedia:

The series is built around the idea that both Ralph and Sam are just doing their jobs. Most of the cartoons begin at the beginning of the workday, in which they both arrive at a sheep-grazing meadow, exchange pleasant chitchat, and punch into the same time clock. Work having officially begun, Ralph repeatedly tries very hard to abduct the helpless sheep and invariably fails, either through his own ineptitude or the minimal efforts of Sam (he is frequently seen sleeping), who always brutally punishes Ralph for the attempt. In many instances there are also multiple copies of Ralph and particularly Sam.

Sam_and_Ralph_clockAt the end-of-the-day whistle, Ralph and Sam punch out their time cards, again chat amiably, and leave, presumably only to come back the next day and do it all again. Both Ralph and Sam are performed by voice actor Mel Blanc.  In “A Sheep In The Deep” the workday is interrupted by a lunch break, which they also conduct amiably.  

I’m often reminded of these wonderful cartoons when playing poker in private home games or house games.  (To me, a “home” game is one with no rake and each player takes a turn shuffling and dealing the cards; a “house” game takes a rake out of the pot, provides a dealer who works for tips and offers complimentary food & beverages.  House games are making a profit off of the game.  Home games are not.  Perhaps this should be the subject of another post, but I digress…)

Most of the players are regulars.  Many of the same players can be found at different venues.  We might invite our poker-loving friends to come join us at the games.  Over time, we get to know each other, learn about jobs, families, other interests… all the stuff that leads to friendships.  Various sub-groups go on poker road trips together.  Like Ralph and Sam, before the game starts, we exchange pleasant chitchat.

Then the poker officially begins.  While involved in a hand, each of us becomes Ralph, using whatever cunning means we have at our disposal to abduct the helpless poker chips from the “villains.”  We are aggressive and deceitful.  We bluff and exploit all weaknesses.  We seek out information that gives us an edge.  We punish villains’ mistakes mercilessly.  And each of us also becomes Sam.  When not asleep, we defend.  We lay traps.  We punish unbridled aggression in the worst possible way.

When we fold, and the player to our left or our right also folds, we can go back into chitchat mode.  “How’s work going?”  “Did you see the game this afternoon – your team won, right?”  “Let’s get together for dinner with our wives next weekend, OK?”

Then another hand is dealt.  We punch our poker time clocks and go back to battle.  It is almost as if we are clocked in whenever we have live cards in our possession, then clocked out from the time we fold until the next hand is dealt.

Or we take a break and wander into the kitchen or out on the deck.  The atmosphere is friendly there, we break bread together and share a story, celebrate each other’s joys or commiserate with each other’s pains.

I was reminded of Ralph E. Wolf and Sam Sheepdog a few nights ago when another regular player (I’ll call him “Rob”) was getting ready to leave the game.  “Rob” had already racked up his chips and was getting ready to cash out.  But he punched in to the poker time clock for one more hand.  “Rob” (attacking, like Ralph) raised, I (defending, like “Sam”) called.  The flop came out… full house on the flop for me.  I laid the trap.  Rob never saw it, and it cost him over 150 Big Blinds.  That’s how the game is played…

Yet I both like and respect “Rob.”  Sometimes he wins and sometimes he loses, but he never seems to take the losses personally, never directs any anger at his villains.  Before he left the building, I met him at the door to acknowledge the brutality of that last hand, and to wish him a very sincere Merry Christmas.  He’ll bounce back.  He always does.

I was reminded of Ralph and Sam again last night.  This time the on-the-clock villain / off-the-clock friend I’ll call “Jayson.”  Earlier in the night there was a large pot, with one player all-in and “Jayson” and myself in a side pot.  I had pocket AAs, and put “Jayson” all-in on the flop.  He looked anguished and finally folded, muttering something in Japanese or Arabic that sounded like “Suqma-deek.”  He showed pocket JJs.  Because a 3rd player was already all-in, I still had to show my cards and watched as the dealer delivered the turn card (a Jack, probably from Acme Corporation).  Lots of “oohs” and other gasps from around the table.  Then the river card – an Ace (how many times do we have to watch the cartoon to learn the sheepdog always wins?).  More reactions.  Later on, after announcing that I was leaving at a certain time, we reached what would be my last hand of the night.  Once again, it was “Jayson” and myself playing the roles of wolf and sheepdog.  I made a nut flush on the river.  “Jayson” bet and I raised all-in.  His top pair / top kicker hand was no good, and he smartly laid it down.

Tomorrow we’ll be friends again.  Except when we both have cards in front of us.

Just a bunch of guys at the office, socializing near the water cooler and time clock.  Transforming into wolf and sheepdog, then back to office buddies, over and over and over again.

2 Straight Flushes in One Hand

I’ve never seen this before.  Last night at a $1/1 home game, two of the players got all-in on the flop.

One of them, I’ll call him “Eric,” has 5c 3c.

The other, I’ll call him “Sonny,” has 76o, where neither of his cards is a club.

The flop was 6c 5d 4c, giving Eric a middle pair + open-ended straight flush draw, and giving Sonny top pair + open-ended straight draw.  At the point, Sonny is ahead with his pair of 66’s beating Eric’s pair of 55’s, but Eric is actually a slight favorite (55%-to-45%) to win the hand based on his many outs (any club, any five, any deuce).

After some posturing and negotiation, they decide to run it three times.  (This means the pot will be divided into 3 equal sub-pots.  The dealer will flip over a turn & river card for 1/3 of the pot.  Then, using the same original flop cards, the dealer will flip over a 2nd turn & river for another 1/3 of the pot, then a final turn & river for the last 1/3 of the pot.  This helps reduce variance when players are all-in before the river.)

The very first turn card is 2c, giving Eric a 6-high straight flush, followed by a meaningless river card. Wow!

Sonny wins the second round.

In the final round, the river card is the 7c, hitting the top end of Eric’s draw and giving him a 7-high straight flush.  Double wow!

Highlight of a crazy night.  During this game, there were 6 hands where someone had pocket AA’s and flopped a set (including Eric 3 of those times).  Triple wow!

Republican Presidential Debate, Part 2

In my previous post, I provided a copy of my entry into FiveThirtyEight.com’s reader contest for  ideas about how to select the candidates to invite to Fox News’ upcoming Republican Presidential debate.

Here is my second contest entry:

How many candidates would you invite to the debate?

A:  2

Describe your criteria and why you think it’s best.

A:  Since this is Fox News and the Republican Party, we’re not seriously going to let “the people” decide who will be nominated for President.  There is no good Fox-worthy reason to parade a bunch of loonies across the stage, unless of course it’s Jeff Foxworthy’s show.  Which it’s not.  So we’ll select only the top two legitimate candidates, who happen to be 2nd and 3rd in national polls.

By your criteria, who would be included in your debate?

A:  Jeb Bush and Scott Walker

So, what other rules would you have at your debate?  Anything goes. It’s your debate.
A:  For the official debate, we’ll give each candidate an alternating three minutes to talk, with a hard stop imposed by muting the microphone at the of each turn.  A coin flip will determine who goes first.  No questions… just take turns speaking and responding.  Debating.  The only role for a moderator is to say “Thank you Mr. ______.  Mr. ______ now it is your turn.”
For all of the other announced candidates, sorry, but your participation can only turn this into a debate about nothing.  So for you, we will have an alternative forum about nothing, borrowing a format from our favorite TV show about nothing:  Seinfeld.
Specifically, the other candidates will have a “Festivus” debate.  Since Festivus is “for the rest of us” all other announced candidates will be invited.  The stage will be adorned with an aluminum pole, whose very high strength-to-weight ratio makes it highly attractive.  [Writer’s note:  although not included in my submission, while copying this into this blog post it occurs to me that I wish I had called it a “Job Creating Aluminum Pole,” since Republican candidates tend to describe everything they support as “job creating” and everything they oppose as “job killing” regardless of any actual causal relationship.  But I digress.]  All candidates will stand haphazardly on the stage, with no podiums or other props.
The event will begin with “Airing of Grievances” in which each candidate will have four minutes to lash out, passing a hand-held microphone to each other when assigned to speak.  The speaking order will be determined via auction, with the highest bidder choosing when they want to speak, followed by the 2nd highest bidder, etc..  After all, money does matter in politics.
Airing of Grievances will be followed by “Feats of Strength.”  In Seinfeld’s Festivus, tradition states that Festivus isn’t over until someone pins the head of household in a wrestling match.  This role will be appropriated to the leader in the most recent polls, currently Trump.  The 2nd highest polling candidate will wrestle Trump in a made-for-Republicans wrestling ring until pinning him, or until Trump pins #2, or either one concedes.  It really does not matter which poll or average of polls is used to select the 2nd candidate, as long as Trump is the first.  That’s what viewers are going to tune in for.
Once the outcome is decided, the #3 candidate will enter the Feats of Strength ring to wrestle the winner between Trump and #2, and so on until the very last candidate has his (or Carly’s) chance to wrestle and emerge as the winner.  There will be no time limit.
Feats of Strength matches will be posted to YouTube and also re-playable via Fox News’ website.

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