Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all! This has been a great inaugural year for the Chicago Poker Club. Many thanks to all of the regular readers, commenters, and contributors!

Keep an eye open for our early January feature, the Chicago Poker Best of 2005.

Be safe, and have fun!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Derby Lane

The Chicago Poker Tour continued with a trip to Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, Florida (i.e. Tampa Bay). Florida has some interesting gambling laws, as it relates to Poker. I'm not certain of the exact rules, but there's the stipulation that no single bet can be over $2. So everyone plays $2 Poker.

Derby Lane had around 30 tables, and was spreading Hold 'em, Omaha 8b, Stud, Double Flop Hold 'em, and
possibly one other, I didn't get a good look at the list. They also were running single table tournaments for $45, with two places paying, until 4pm. After 7pm they were running multi-table tournaments, starting with a 30 player event.

I was there for a few hours, 3:00 pm until almost 7. I player Limit Hold 'em and Omaha 8 or better. I also played in a single table tournament.

When I first sat at the Hold 'em table, I had to ask a few basic questions to make sure I understood the betting. "$2 limit? Does that mean $1 pre- and post-flop, and $2 turn and river? No sir, all bets are $2. Oh. Okay. So the blinds are one and two? Nope. There's one single blind. $2." I felt like I was at the Billy Goat Tavern of Poker Rooms.

How much can I raise?

Two Dollars

How much for a water?

Two Dollars.

How about a sandwich.

Two dollars.

I got QQ in the blind on the very first hand. The flop came Q-J-10. I was immediately irritated. If I wasn't yet beaten, I soon would be. I bet my set for value, and got two callers. The turn came an Ace. It seemed fairly likely that one of my two opponents had a King, but I had to find out. I bet, one player called the other folded. Hmm... no King I guess. The river? A king.

I showed my Queens (it was a very friendly, low stakes table, and the new guy had been doing all the betting. I had to show a real hand.) My opponent showed that he had flopped two pair, jacks and tens. And we chopped the pot.

Over the next one hour and 45 minutes, I did not win (or even chop) a single hand. That includes an SnG, that I'll share the details of. I was please with my play, getting away from the second best hand many times, and not losing too much money. But I was irritated as hell about my cards and the betting structure.

I got up from the table after my first 75 minutes of losing, and signed up for the last single-table SnG of the day. (Is that redundant, or can we consider ad hoc multi-table touraments SnGs also? I think so.) I lasted about 10 hands, and was still not the first person out. It was a classic case of small starting chips, short rounds, and rapidly escalating blinds (not that I saw them). I got a good starting hand on the button and pushed. I really ran a great bluff, I thought, and got busted on the river by my lone remaining opponent who had a quite mediocre hand. I'm not sure if he was good enough to somehow read my play, or bad enough to call off most of his chips with a lousy hand. I had only seen one flop previously, so he couldn't have gotten many previous reads from me. Oh well.

The funniest thing abou the tournament were the chip denominations. They were the stadard colors, but the green was $0.0025, the black was $0.0100, and the purple was $0.0500. This was to get around Floridas silly law about the amount that can be bet per hand. Apparently it applies not only to legal tender - U.S. Dollars - but also to "tournament dollars". Negreanu!? That doesn't make sense.

Finally I played some Omaha 8 or better. I'm not an Omaha player, and would never claim to be good at it. At this point, however, I was willing to try anything, and $2 poker seemed like a cheap lesson. I've never played Omaha live, but really enjoyed the action immensely. I won a few (split) pots, but never scooped, which is what you're suppposed to be angling for, I understand. I quickly learned who were the action players, who was tight, and who only bet the nuts. I stayed away from the latter, and had a good time for a couple hours before eventually losing $50 anf heading out for the evening.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Prime-Time Poker Waning?

I read a Reuters article today entitled "Poker's Lucky Streak Seen Fading". It discussed the fact that the industry that is poker has passed it's high-water mark. Sales of poker sets (chips, cards, etc.) and other poker related paraphernalia is down from recent months and recent holiday seasons. The article posits the idea that poker is purely a "pop fad" and is on the way out.

Poker is not just a fad. I believe most of us would argue that. It's been played for many years. The exact history of Poker is often debated, but many trace it's roots to a similar game first played in the early 1800s. Unless the 200-year fashion is coming to an end, it is more than simply a fad.

I will concede the fact that much of the boom was rooted in fad. The promotion of poker sites and tournaments by way of hockey jersey is, hopefully, on the decline. The days of everybody and their brother going out to purchase a set of chips and a tabletop is likely approaching saturation, and those who haven't gotten them already are losing interest, not gaining it. The days of being able to choose from four simultaneously televised poker events are limited. Over the last several years, we have witnessed an unfathomable, and indeed ludicrous, surge in the popularity of the game...

At the same time, the movie Rounders, the advent of "pocket cams", and the success of WSOP and WPT, have opened up the game to millions of new players, many of whom will continue to play and compete casually. It has also raised the acceptance level, where it is seen as a competition and a battle of wits (accurate or not) and not just a seedy, underground gambling habit.

The surge and successive wane will both be and have been very good for the game. The game will continue to benefit from more good players created during the boom, more eager, mediocre players coming late to the party, or only minimally interested at the present time - and with both come fresh blood and fresh cash.

Yes, the internet bubble burst, but we sure do have "a lot more internet" than we did 8 years ago. We have a huge, growing market for online shopping, online bill paying, and the likes of Yahoo, Buy.com, Google, and Amazon. Much like those online anchors, WPT and WSOP aren't going anywhere; they just won't see those prize pools blow up so quickly.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Fighting the Winter Blahs

So it's December 19, and the thermometer read 1 this morning. One! One lousy degree. It's cold.

I played in a little 6 person game last night at a friends. Everyone there was small stakes, and risk averse, so the host suggested that three places pay out. Third place gets his money back, first and second get 50 and 33% respectively. I played poorly early on. I considered myself to be the most skilled player at the table, and tried to push too hard early. I loosened my starting hand requirements and probably was playing approximately the same starting hands that my opponents were. I thought I would outwit them with my post-flop play, but did not.

By the time we were down to four players, I was really struggling. Most of my moves were forced to be all in moves with an (unadjusted) M of about 6 or 7. I was fortunate to survive, and we were down to 3. "The money". Hooray!

I battled back until I had one of my opponents covered. The blinds weren't moving incredibly fast, so I was out of danger for a little while. The chip leader had accumulated a number of chips by being in the right place at the right time. He was a loose, passive player for the most part.

I found myself heads up with him in a big hand. Typically I would try to avoid the only player to have me covered, but with three opponents, and a nice starting hand ing the big blind, I couldn't get away from it. The flop didn't help me, but was quite ragged. My opponent bet into me, which he was capable of doing with nothing. I confidently called. The turn was no help (to either of us, as it turned out) and my oppenent showed weakness in his body language and with a check. I was sure he had nothing, and the pot was big enough, probably 40% of my stack. I pushed all in, knowing that he could conceivably call off a big chunk of chips with a mediocre holding, but would never double me up with, say, second pair.

He went into the tank. He thought and thought. The longer he thought, the more I knew he would fold.

He called.

He turned over second pair, with a terrible kicker. Regardless, it beat my ace-high, and took me out of the tournament. I could not believe he called me. I congratulated him on a great call and left the table with my entry fee refunded to me.

It's been a cold winter, not only outside, but at the table. I had one big win last month to ensure that I finish the year in the positive (unless I do something terribly stupid), but otherwise I've been a losing player for a couple months. It's time to get back to the basics - tighten up my starting hand requirements, play smart after the flop, and don't try to put a move on an opponent who can be bothered to notice. Make value bets more, and bluff less. Finally, read, read, read. It's time to review those "school" books.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Playing to the Table

I haven't had much time to play cards, or even think about poker since the big brouhaha last week. Life's just too busy right now - between work (hectic!) and planning a wedding (and a bachelor party!).

My mind does bring me back to poker regularly, despite what else I may be working on or thinking about. I got to wondering recently if truly great poker players, professional or otherwise, adapt their strategy a great deal from table to table.

Sure, I know that a good player changes speeds. If I'm agressive consistently over hours of play, my opponents will take advantage of that. When they get good hands, they'll let me do all the work, betting and raising while they reap the benefits. I also understand that a strong player reads his or her table, opponent by opponent. Maybe you start with the player to your right and the two to your left, and then expand your sphere as you feel your way around the table. But then, your underlying strategy hasn't necessarily changed, you're just adjusting to your opponents, reading their tendencies, capatalizing on their weaknesses.

My question is this - if Daniel Negreanu or Chris Ferguson sat down at my home game, would they play significantly differently than at a mid-stakes No Limit game at the Mirage? Would they be less aggressive across the board, knowing that their opponents would likely call with weaker hands, knowing that bluffs would seldom be effective, but value bets would be especially valuable? Or, would they push harder, challenging weaker players to call off all of their chips with a mediocre hand?

I guess if we assume that we're talking about great players, they adjust entirely, probably without consciously thinking about it. At least, that's what one would assume. But why, then, have players like Daniel and Chris struggled against the large fields of amateur and online opponents? Do they not adjust enough? Or are the fields just too big, giving bad luck too many opportunities to rear it's ugly head?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Greatest Illegal Pastime?

"It's just a shame that here we have an activity that is possibly America's favorite pastime, a game that perhaps more people have played than any other game or sport, and the government can say it's illegal."

- Robert Williamson III, Baltimore Sun, November 4, 2005

Friday, December 02, 2005

BUSTED: Chicago Poker Takes a Dive


Well, they went and did it. Ali Babba's tournament was raided tonight by the Cook County Sherriff's Department. They had several plain clothes officers buy-in and sit at tables. Seven minutes in, half-way through the first round, the plain clothes officers left the room, donned Sherriff's jackets, and returned with reinforcements.

They questioned the tournament organizers for about 10 minutes, and then escorted one or more them, and the prize money, out the door. The players were told that the money was being "taken as evidence" and that they would not be arrested. The players could continue playing "for fun". That went over like Mike Sexton at an underground rave. Within seconds, 22 of the 23 tables had two or less people left at them. One table successfully played a "game for fun" for about 6 minutes, and then everyone lost interest.

One of our fellow Chicago Poker Clubbers, Nostanebula had brought a tape recorder to take some interviews after the tourney. Well, the schedule had suddenly lightened up, and he interviewed one of the organizers, Dolphin13, and I, presumably for the Lord Admiral broadcast this week.

It's unfortunate, really, and it has bigger implications. I don't understand the motivation. What did anyone have to gain by this? Reportedly, there were "several" individuals who called the county and reported the game. That was purely hearsay, but I'll take it as fact for argument sake. Was this a personal vendetta? Did someone just decide that no one should have fun? Why? Why...

The implications are bigger, as I say, because now we have to wonder if the city or the county is keeping an eye on things to try to break up future events. It was the Vice Squad that broke up the game. The Vice Squad! In Cook County, home of Chicago. Certainly there was something more important (let's call it a homicide, an assault, an armed robbery?) going on in Cook County than three young men making $20/hour by hosting a card game, and taking money from poor, unsuspecting poker players!

A few dejected players discussed the state of poker in Chicago afterwards. There's rumor that home games have been broken up. Zero rake home games! What! All I can think to say, respectfully, is bite me! Honestly. That's just cruel.

One of the officers came back into the hall afterward to make sure "everything was okay" and to be sure no one was playing cash games. I chuckled and said, "no, we're just lamenting our spoiled evening". He smiled, and responsed, "hey, I'm not going to comment. How many cops do you guys think were playing in your game tonight?"

That's just it. I know for a fact that there are cops, judges, and FBI officers playing regularly in (illegal) poker games around the city. Little old ladies are playing bingo. Some bars are making a few extra nickels off of there trivia and video poker games. Regualr Joe's are making a few bucks hustling pool. The State of Illinois is selling scratch off tickets and Super Duper Sloppy Lotto tickets. Is it okay to gamble if there's money in it for the City, County, or State? Is it okay to gamble if 50% of it goes to the State, and the schmoe who invested his last $10 in SuperBall tickets has a huge negative EV (expected value/return)? Is it not okay to engage in games of skill for money? Where's the line? What's the harm?

I just don't see it.