Thursday, May 29, 2008

Viva Las Vegas!

I made it!

Yesterday, I arrived in Vegas at around noon. None of the other P5s crew was in yet, so I hung around our house (which is very nice) for a while until Court showed up in town. I met him over at the Rio and got to look around and get a feel for the place. It was kinda weird finally seeing what it looks like in person versus just seeing it on TV all these years.

When some of the other guys got here, we headed back over to the Rio again and this time I spotted one of the dealers from Caesars Indiana, Adam. I think I may have scared the crap out of him (granted, I did just scream "Adam" at him down a rather long hallway), but it was nice to see a familiar face here. The rest of the P5s crew seems very nice, but I get the impression a couple of them already have a bunch of friends out here, so I appreciate having people to talk to and hang out with besides the housemates.

I am trying to decide if/what to play. The bankroll to say the least, but I can't help but want to play while I can. I am thinking if I can find a 5/10 limit game, I would like to give it a shot, but I have also been playing more 1/2 as of late. More than likely I will start in the limit comfort zone, but I am really hoping to improve my NL game over the next few weeks.

Not much else to report on considering we just arrived yesterday. Just happy to be here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A lil unusual

Check this hand that happened in my Sit n Go tonight:

PokerStars Game #17603506192: Tournament #89253116, $6.00+$0.50 Hold'em No Limit - Level II (15/30) - 2008/05/22 - 01:36:53 (ET)
Table '89253116 1' 9-max
Seat #7 is the button
Seat 1: toddw8 (1440 in chips)
Seat 2: uscjess (1330 in chips)
Seat 3: BerzWay (1990 in chips)
Seat 4: thecomet44 (1800 in chips)
Seat 5: selfd (1610 in chips)
Seat 6: marilynjoy (1350 in chips)
Seat 7: Eman299 (1465 in chips)
Seat 8: bazza68 (1205 in chips)
Seat 9: CINACIN (1310 in chips)
bazza68: posts small blind 15
CINACIN: posts big blind 30
Dealt to uscjess [Kd Ks]
toddw8: folds
uscjess: raises 60 to 90
BerzWay: folds
thecomet44: folds
selfd: folds
marilynjoy: folds
Eman299: folds
bazza68: raises 1115 to 1205 and is all-in
CINACIN: raises 105 to 1310 and is all-in
uscjess: calls 1220
*** FLOP *** [Kc Jd Qc]
*** TURN *** [Kc Jd Qc] [9h]
CINACIN said, "no way"
*** RIVER *** [Kc Jd Qc 9h] [6c]
*** SHOW DOWN ***
CINACIN: shows [Qd Qh] (three of a kind, Queens)
uscjess: shows [Kd Ks] (three of a kind, Kings)
BerzWay said, "WHAT"
uscjess collected 210 from side pot
bazza68: shows [Js Jh] (three of a kind, Jacks)
bazza68 said, "lol"
uscjess collected 3615 from main pot
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot 3825 Main pot 3615. Side pot 210. Rake 0 Board [Kc Jd Qc 9h 6c]
Seat 1: toddw8 folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 2: uscjess showed [Kd Ks] and won (3825) with three of a kind, Kings
Seat 3: BerzWay folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 4: thecomet44 folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 5: selfd folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 6: marilynjoy folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 7: Eman299 (button) folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 8: bazza68 (small blind) showed [Js Jh] and lost with three of a kind, Jacks
Seat 9: CINACIN (big blind) showed [Qd Qh] and lost with three of a kind, Queens

Glad it all worked out for me : )

Current balance: 1055

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I Enjoy Being a Girl

I was up at the boat yesterday putting my governmental money to good use. There was hardly anyone there, so I was forced to sit down at one of the two $1/$2 NL tables. Man, did I get stuck at the wrong one. There were two guys, both very drunk, who were basically getting it all in every hand. Each had around $1000 in front of them compared to my paltry $200. The one bright spot was that I was seated to the immediate left of them, meaning they had to act before I made any decisions. Well, my very first hand I pick up queens and raise to $10. The first drunk guy reraises me and every fiber of my being says "shove all in", but I, being a big wimp, elect to call instead. The flop is K 8 3 rainbow. He bets. Again, every fiber says shove, I fold. I know I know, I play like a shameful little girl, but I just HATE going broke on the first hand. And, as I had just seen, this guy was calling any and everything. Considering how bad I was running, I didn't even want to take them up against just an ace. He showed AJ, smirked like he was some big shot, and went broke a couple of hours later. So did the second drunk guy, who I picked up about a hundred bucks off of.

After the two drunk guys busted out, the table calmed down and I proceeded to sit there for an hour and a half folding all my crap hands. I got nothing to work with. The big stack at the table is a guy I have played with a few times (I think his name is Scott...we'll go with that). He raises to $25. This may seem like a lot, but that is generally his standard raise. He is a fairly tight player, but his range on opening in early-middle position here is probably 77+ and KJs+. I have QQ again. Yee haw, I think to myself. I then pop it up to $75. It fold around to him and he looks disgusted. He asks how much I have total, which is $143 in addition to the $75. He then says, "I hate to do it, but I guess I go all in. I mean, there's only one hand that beats me."

Oh crap.

I ask, "only one, huh?" and he nods his head. I don't think he' s lying either, so I tell him there are two hands that beat me and fold my queens face up. He shows the kings. Bummer.

Well, later, he raises to $20 and I am in the big blind with 10 10 and I elect to flat call and avoid a situation like last time. It is just him and I in the hand and he asks if I have a pair. I say I do, he tells me he has one as well. The flop comes out and it is 8 high. I inform him my pair is bigger than the board and he is like, "I flopped a set." Seriously? I check, he puts me all in, I fold, he shows 88. At this point, all of the other guys at the table are like, "Woah man you are WAY too nice." He says, "come on man, I don't want to take all her money, we're friends, it is fine." Granted, this guy and I don't technically know each other's names, but I appreciate the kindness nonetheless. Later, my friend insisted this was not some good samaritan, but just a dude with a crush.

This has gotten me thinking. I mean, to be perfectly honest, I suppose it crossed my mind that being the only female under 30 in the room went into this guy's decision making process. That being said, if that is the case, honestly, I don't feel bad about it. First of all, I am not in the poker room, whoring myself out to get guys to be nice to me. I sit at the table, I am personable and, anyone who knows my personality realizes I am just friendly in general. Secondly, I have to sit at tables with so many disgusting, mysoginistic men who HATE to be beat by a girl that it seems only fair I get some advantages being a female as well. Finally, this is a game where everyone is developing some sort of table image and what is going on in this situation is more of the same. I have established a reputation as a solid player who is also kinda fun to have at the table. As a result, I get respect from the regulars when I raise and people who are in marginal situations stay away from me sometimes.

So, I don't care if he thought I was cute because I am secure enough in my card playing skills to realize if I didn't know how to play cards, I probably wouldn't get that kind of treatment at all.

Oh, and current balance: 997.14

Wishing things would turn around...

current balance.....


I won't bitch about running bad, know, I'm running bad. Same ole same ole.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Poker Paper Part Four--Live Free and Die Nerd

Even when a person is not participating in a poker game, their performance within the poker room works to establish their position as someone with skill and knowledge. Moving now to the third category of metacommunication which occurs outside of the game itself, my attention will also shift from how people disseminate information to how they go about obtaining it. In such a highly competitive environment, players must earn their right to be privy to certain types of information. Players may be unwilling to tap the glass and educate the fish, but if a person has proven themselves to be competent on their own accord, it is much more likely that others will discuss game strategy with them. Within my time in the field, I found players were reticent to speak with me for fear I was trying to obtain “trade secrets” they had spent years developing. It was only after demonstrating my own knowledge of the game through references to poker jargon or establishing a personal connection through a common interest outside of poker, that they became more open in their conversations.

One person I spoke with at length actually has been a poker mentor of sorts for me long before I began my fieldwork. I inquired as to why he and his friends took me under their wing and educated me about the game. He explained in our first time playing together in a poker tournament, the field of other players was unusually weak. We were briefly put on the same table and he observed that I was one of the few players there who had an understanding of how the game worked. Additionally, my style of play reminded him of when he first took up an interest in the game and, through that identification, a bond was established. Within Caesars, personal friendships and relationships are often more loosely defined. When asked, one person noted they almost always know someone within the room when they show up to play, but often times “knowing” someone extends only to facial recognition and a few mental notes about how they play or their behavior at the table. It is only after months of playing together and through the development of mutual respect that interaction away from the table escalates from perfunctory greetings to lengthier informal conversation.

Discussions about how to approach the game are less common and typically conducted away from the table. Some players like to replay key hands from a session with their most trusted peers to facilitate advice and feedback on how to improve their game while others do not even discuss game theory, save for recalling the action of a hand for an inquisitive player, within the confines of the casino. The players I spoke with dismissed notions of mentoring and discussing their approach to the game with their peers, but oftentimes our interviews were disrupted by another player who came by to say hello. When my interview subject would ask how they were, the players would frequently recall either a big hand they lost or a big hand they won. The retelling of the single hand stood in metonymically for their entire session, indicating to us they were either ahead several hundred dollars or had gotten in some unfortunate or unlucky situations resulting in a financial setback. Players almost never claimed they played a hand badly. Much in the same way players attempt to predict what their opponent holds at the table, their recollection of the hand also includes critique of how poorly the other person played their hand. These retellings of losing hands, called bad beat stories, are perceived as means to vent frustration, but they also reaffirm the narrator’s status as a player of skill to someone who was not there to witness their performance.

In general, players do not like to discuss the larger scope of their financial situations. While they were willing to disclose how much they won or lost in a single session, they remained protective of just how much money they were actually making in a given year. When I asked one player what made him so well suited for poker, he responded by noting his ability to handle the emotional swings of financial losses and gains within the game because he was able to contextualize them within his lifetime earnings. This type of understanding, while not direct metacommunication, still alludes to a successful players’ ability to consider their own position within the greater schemes of the game, the room, and their career respectively. Furthermore, by withholding information about their life outside of poker or the amount of money they have won over the course of a long period of time, they retain more authority in how they are perceived by the poker community. Players I interviewed highlighted their experience and knowledge of the history of the game in order to garner my respect. Often, after interviews were over, other players would take me aside and inform me the person I had spoken with was broke three months earlier or tell me about bad plays they had made in the past to illustrate how I should take what they say with a grain of salt. One man simply cautioned me that the majority of what is said in a casino is some manipulation of the truth and there is no one who is going to be completely straightforward with me. However, shortly after this warning, he also offered to peruse my research in order to point out what is true and what is false.

Questions of authority aside, what the man’s remark reiterates is the game of poker is designed to make sure nothing is as it seems. An old saying amongst poker fans is, “the man who invented poker was clever, but the man who invented chips was a genius”. At the heart of poker interaction is an exchange of goods, but even that is masqueraded through the implementation of the medium of chips. By substituting actual money with only a representation of it, players become detached from its value outside of the casino and instead use it as a tool within their performance. For regular players, this disregard for money is often noted as a key to their success. Their fearlessness as a card player is bolstered by their ability to risk several hundred dollars on a bluff even though they know there is a chance they won’t get that money back. Conversely, their ability to distract other players from the pressures of the world outside the casino doors affords them ample opportunities to capitalize on their opponent’s careless mistakes.

Poker play is a highly specialized mode of performance, but it is a great venue to see the ways in which metacommunication can be used not only to amplify the communicative competence of a speech event, but also provide insights into ways highly reflexive forms of communication is enacted by people to mask or detract attention from the heart of the “primary” elements of a given performance. So often, discussions of metacommunication are focused on how it draws audience attention to the performance itself. The fieldwork of Berger and Del Negro conducted at Ohio concert venues and in Italian villages respectively, have shown some of the ways in which reflexive language has influenced aesthetics through drawing attention to the heightened engagement between performer and audience.[i] What I hope my research amongst card players has shown is how reflexive language and nonverbal metacommunicative behavior work to manipulate the narrative message between performer and audience. The performer’s metacommunication displays a thorough understanding of their subject positioning within the performance, but does not always impart this understanding to their audience. In a game in which players are constantly avoiding “tapping the glass”, metacommunicative behavior within performance aids in concealing the multiple levels of thought the performer is operating within.
In Karin Barber’s “Preliminary Notes on African Audiences”, she references the multiple ways in which audiences are constructed based on factors such as history and social understanding.[ii] Reflecting back on the levels of metagame a player considers, they help to accommodate the need for poker performer’s to adapt their performance based on their audience. A player operating on level five has considered what level of thinking their opponent is utilizing and adjusts accordingly. For the fish, who are only thinking on the first and second level, a performer’s metacommunicative behavior is purposefully designed to be misinterpreted by their audience in order to achieve fiscal success and gain notoriety as a competent player. Against players who are equally adept, these ever-escalating levels of thought behind metacommunication provide insight into the multi-layered possibilities of reflexive language to influence the aesthetics of a given performance as well as a variation in the ability of the audience to interpret that reflexive language in a particular way. Much in the same way the speech event itself can be dissected into an array of dimensions, metacommunication cannot be described as a single mode of heightened self-awareness, but a fluid range of possibilities that are in need of further exploration and research.

[i] Ibid p.85
[ii] Barber, Karin. 1997. “Preliminary Notes on Audiences in Africa.” Africa 67(3):347-362. p.348

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Poker Paper Part Three--Nerd Hard with a Vengeance

Poker players, on the other hand, use their ability to manipulate their subjective metacommentary in order to garner respect and winnings from their opponents. While I have already established some of the parameters and limits set on what people can and cannot say and do when they play poker, let us move now to examining how players work within these confines to influence the aesthetics of their own poker interactions. Players even have a term to describe such behavior: building a table image. In some instances, this image is based on the way they are playing in the course of a single session, but amongst regular players, months and even years of tendencies and performances influence their reputation at the table. Players are able to construct their table image in a number of ways, including the cards they choose to play, how many hands they fold, how frequently they call raises, and how much money they have in front of them.

Oftentimes though, these factors are secondary or are at least masked in part through players’ metacommunicative behavior. One evening, one of my informants and I were observing a particularly raucous $1/$2 NLHE table where one of the more outgoing regulars was seated. Every time the player sits down at a table, he passes out peppermints to the other players as well as the dealer, earning him the nickname of “The Candyman”. In addition to sweetening his opponents’ opinion of him, The Candyman often talks conversationally to other players at the table. On this particular evening, one of the other players was clearly intoxicated and playing a wide range of hands, also known as playing very loosely. While some pros and regulars employ a loose style, poker strategists like Dan Harrington generally perceive this style of play to be a losing one, especially for an inexperienced player.[i] The Candyman was frequently straddling hands, meaning he raised before being dealt cards. The straddle bet, which is a common tactic amongst Caesars Indiana players allows the blind raiser to be the last one to make a decision before the three community cards, known as the flop, are dealt. In addition to the luxury of being the last to act, straddle bets also add money to the pots and are considered to induce more action amongst players. Moreover, players who straddle bet are perceived to be looser players. When I inquired as to why The Candyman would straddle bet so often, my informant explained it helped to build his table image as a loose player even though, in reality, he was playing rather conservatively. By straddling for $5, a mere $3 more than the $2 forced bet, The Candyman was purchasing the table image as someone playing less than stellar cards, making it more likely that someone would call his bets with marginal holdings. In addition to his straddle bet, he was also verbally enticing the drunk player to play, telling him “come on in”, or “raise, come on, raise”. It should also be noted that The Candyman kept a small sign in front of his chip stack which read, “Have you ever noticed that ‘what the hell’ always seems to be the right answer?”
Everything, from the way he dressed to what he said to cultivated a table image that was in direct contrast to the way he was actually playing. In the period of time I watched him, he frequently folded and during one hand showed his opponent his hole cards of two queens before folding when a second jack appeared amongst the community cards, making it possible, if not likely, his opponent held three of a kind. While the case of The Candyman is a unique example, it does speak to the very nature of poker, which is that the way you communicate with others is designed to mask what you are actually doing. The act of bluffing is a great example of how metacommunication is used to adjust the way an opponent interprets the meaning of a performance. When asked what makes a good bluff, one player explained that, “ it tells a good story”. More specifically, bluffs tend to be more effective in inducing an opponent to fold when the player’s actions mirror those a player who actually held those cards would make. If the first three community cards contained two cards suited in hearts and a player just calls a bet and a third heart comes up on the fourth card and they make a big bet, they are representing a flush. In actuality, they are betting with nothing, but through the act of betting when what is termed an “action card” came out and showing strength not only in the bet, but through body language, like sitting up alertly, the player is both exhibiting awareness of their subject position and using it to influence their opponents’ ideas about their holdings. Even in the process of folding, players’ think ahead to the future and pretend an easy decision is difficult by taking time before mucking their cards. This tactic, referred to by players as “Hollywood-ing”, is an act of reflexivity that is utilized with the intention of using the impression it leaves again in the future.

Frequently, these bluffs are planned over the course of several sessions amongst regular players. When I mentioned a particular player to one of my informants, he told me he had been setting up a play at them for a number of months and could not wait for the opportune time to put it into effect. While he did not disclose the specifics of his plan, essentially he had been repeating a certain set of actions against this player several times. On these previous occasions, my informant had conceded the hand to the other player, but was planning on repeating the same steps when he had a very strong hand in order to trap the other player for a large sum of money if it was successful. Though this is not subject positioning per se, it is the type of practice that demonstrates an awareness of a performance in context to those which preceded it. It is self-referential nonetheless, referencing the self from a previous communicative event and demonstrating an understanding of how even metacommunication and actions from prior performances influences the aesthetics of events occurring in the present. To borrow Charles Brigg’s term, the repetition of these behaviors function as a triplex sign, working to create indexical meaning in the given situation, but also positioning the communication within the larger referential frame of the players’ history by conveying what is occurring now is structurally parallel to hands that have occurred previously. Briggs refers to these triplex signs as a type of conversational metasign which can be used as a powerful tool in constructing a speech event.[ii]
Berger and Del Negro also argue for the importance of metacommunication within the structure of a performance, noting, “that reflexivity is not some optional addition to over-sophisticated and highly ironic performances but that, on the contrary, it is built into the very structure of intersubjectivity and is essential to the aesthetics of performance”.[iii] I would like to extend this even further and suggest that in the realm of poker, reflexivity is not only essential but can take precedent over the primary elements of the performance of playing a hand. As the examples of players cultivating table images have illustrated, a person’s fiscal success is contingent upon the aesthetics of their reflexive performance more so than their primary actions. Without persuasively disguising the strength or weakness of their hand, they will not be able to excise maximum value out of their holdings or induce a player to fold. Creating a fun environment, much in the way The Candyman did, is something multiple players cited as a way of concealing what was actually occurring as hands transpired. One player purposefully avoids playing with his chips, also called riffling, and limits his banter with the dealers early on so others at the table will not be able to recognize him as an experienced player. Even something as subtle as the way in which a player manipulates the media associated with the game conveys a certain degree of skill, which many make an effort to downplay at the table in their attempt to create a laid back atmosphere in which the fish are unaware of the shark in their presence.

In the same vein, players often foreground their skill using the same type of reflexive behavior to intimidate others at the table, not just tapping on the glass, but beating on it as a demonstration of who is in control. During hands, players will often speculate on what their opponent is holding, uttering something like, “two pair is good” before folding their hand. While no one admitted to this type of behavior in my interviews, walking around the room, this language could be heard at a majority of the tables. A variation of the behavior is the nonverbal act of a player turning one of his cards face up before folding, revealing his ability to let go of a hand if he determines he is beat. One could postulate this reflexive performance does lay the ground for future encounters with opponents by positioning ones’ self as a player adept at reading people and situations and someone they should play cautiously in the future.

However, this behavior, in many ways, seems as much for the benefit of the performer as their audience. Most of the time, these utterances occurred right before a fold, so this performance seems to also serve as a consolation and reassurance to the losing player that, despite having lost money, they still made a good decision. Referring back to Bauman’s definition of performance as a display of communicative competence, this display of metacommunicative prowess can be explained even further. In poker, financial gain is the typical benchmark of competence. Nonetheless, situations arise in which players need to heed the lyrics of Kenny Rogers and “know when to fold ‘em”.[iv] In this case, while it may appear a player has failed, their ability to interpret the situation through their reflexive language and nonverbal behavior still affords them an opportunity to literally perform their communicative competence and highlight their decision making and people reading skills.

Though poker is conceived of by players as a game of skill, luck often influences the outcome of a hand. Professional poker player and television personality Phil “The Poker Brat” Hellmuth once stated, “if it weren’t for luck, I would win every time”.[v] As his nickname indicates, he has a penchant for using his commentary to reiterate his skill for the game when the cards don’t go his way. At Caesars, one player I observed within my field work was suffering through a dry spell himself, logging several losing sessions, many of which were the result of big hands in which he was the statistical favorite to win and just got unlucky. In my conversations with him about his interactions at the table, he described his approach, which entailed as little talking as possible in order to limit the amount of information his opponent could work with. Once his dry spell dragged on for several months, he began to increasingly make self-referential comments within game play like, “I can’t remember the last time I had even a pair”. I suspect some of his motivation behind these comments stemmed from frustration, but in the absence of a large stack of chips to indicate his skill to others, he had to rely on his reading abilities and metacommentary to display his prowess as a player.

[i] Harrington, Dan and Robertie, Bill. Harrington on Hold Em: Expert Strategy for No Limit Hold Em Tournaments, Vol. 1: Strategic Play. Henderson, NV: Two Plus Two, 2004. This is the first of several strategy books by Harrington, who is one of the most popular poker authors. Other known poker authors, such as David Sklansky, also purport a very conservative style of play.
[ii] Briggs, Charles. 1986. Learning How to Ask. Cambridge. p. 53-54
[iii] Ibid p.86
[iv] Rogers, Kenny. “The Gambler.” The Gambler. UA, 1978
[v] This quotation from Hellmuth is often cited within poker rooms and oft repeated by Hellmuth himself on a number of televised poker programs including “World Series of Poker” and “Poker After Dark”.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"I'm still learning"

So, our friend Kevin....what can I say about our friend Kevin? For a man with a masters in engineering, sometimes I wonder how Kevin crosses the street without getting hit by a car. I can say, in all honesty, you would be hard pressed to find a nicer guy, but all of us have stories of hilariously inappropriate things he has said. My personal favorite is when I stood up at the poker table and my shirt had rode up just a bit and, as I was pulling it down to cover up my stomach, Kevin proclaims, "oh, muffin top!"

Kevin is equally clueless when it comes to poker and there is at least once every time I play with him that I just scratch my head in disbelief. It is so strange to me too, because his three good friends are basically some of the best poker players in Lexington. One of them, Ross, hosts a game at his house every Tuesday. It is informal with smallish stakes ($0.25/$0.50) but a lot of fun.

Well, we were playing a limit omaha h/l hand yesterday when the following transpired: Kevin had raised out of the big blind and most people call. I had some awful hand w/ a J and a 9, so I elect to fold. The flop came out Q J J. Ross is in the small blind and leads out. Kevin immediately raises behind him and it folds around. Ross then reraises. Before Kevin can call, Ross, who is inclined to be friendly from time to time and let people know when they're beat, says, "if you don't have quads, don't call." Kevin stops in his tracks and, in all sincerity, goes, "what does that mean?" Ross then turns over his two queens to show the top boat. Kevin stares, stunned......

.....and then he calls! Turn is a blank, Ross bets, Kevin calls. Before the river comes out, Ross bets again, an A hits, Kevin immediately raises, Ross reluctantly calls. Kevin turns over A A J 6 for a bigger boat. We all sit, in a stunned silence. Then I tell Ross I folded a J and, he realizes, he has been 2 outed.

Oh, and...

Current Balance: $1157

Monday, May 5, 2008

I Tapped the Glass...

Current Balance: $1021

So I went to my friend's Monday night summer series tonight, despite the fact I will not be around to participate in the main event. I can say now, won't be going back. At my first table, we had an absolute blast. We were all playing very respectfully, cracking jokes, and just having a grand ole time. Unfortunately, our table was the first to break and we were divided between the remaining two tables. The chip leader at my table is unanimously considered the worst player in the game, but he is also a ridiculous lucksack. He would call 3-bets all in with hands like QJ and just hit hit hit. On a board of 955Q5 (no flush possibilities), the small blind made a smallish bet on the river in a FIVE way pot. This dumbass thinks for a minute and says, "I don't believe you have anything", before calling and showing J4.

Hate to break it to you sir, but even if you don't think he has anything, neither do you. You have J high. Not to mention the fact that you limped in middle position at a full table with J 4 suited. Can we also return to the fact that there were five players in this hand? Why, on God's green earth, would this player bluff from the small blind with four players to act behind him?

The thing is, being a friendly game, there are several godawful players in the game. There always are. So I should be nice and keep my mouth shut, right? Well, here's my problem: This guy constantly drones on and on about how he knows how people play and how he reads people so well and, my god, he may as well be Daniel Negreanu for all the masterful poker play embedded into his very soul.

And the second thing is this: I have worked my ass off for nearly two years now establishing a reputation amongst these players of being solid and tight, like borderline Nitzilla tight. I bluff once every 200 hands or so. I have never, ever check raised bluffed in these games and anyone with half a brain ought to realize that when I bet, I have something. But, tonight, like Saturday, like the three tournaments before that, I have found myself in situations in which the entire table, myself included, sit there with our jaws agape at what these people call me with. I am often critical and reflective of my own play and, after reviewing each of the hands with myself and others, I can't think of any other way to play them.

Here is how I went out tonight:
Blinds 75/150
I am under the gun with AJ. I don't really love raising UTG with AJ at a 10 handed table, especially with the calling stations I endure in these games, so I elect to limp. The pot is 5-way leading to the flop, which is AdQc3d. Since it hasn't been raised, my only real concern here is if someone has A3 or A4, but I figure I will find out on the flop where I am at because, with all the draws, two pair is prolly going to put in a raise here. There is 750 in the pot, so I lead out for 500. Dumbass calls instantly behind me, everyone else folds. I have narrowed down my range of hands on him to a weak ace or a diamond draw. Even though he is stupid, everyone in that game knows on an A high board, when I bet out, 98.8% of the time I have an Ace, and half of the remaining time I have a set. He knows this. We have played together so many times there is no way he CAN'T know this. Turn is a non-diamond 4, I throw in 800, he insta moves all in.

Now I am in a bind. If my weak ace theory is correct, he could have A4, but I just have such a difficult time believing he would call in that situation knowing he absolutely had to be crushed. I only have 2000 chips behind me and the blinds have just gone up. I think the hand over in my head and I begin to convince myself that he, as he has done numerous times before, is overvaluing a mid-range ace like A7-A10. Moreover, there is the, "don't want to lose to a girl" factor that would prompt him to shove here to try to induce a fold. I ultimately conclude I have too much invested not to call , but before I make a decision I say, "I really don't believe that you are actually stupid enough to call me with A4. You know better. You can't be that stupid. And if you aren't that stupid, I don't see how I don't have you right here so I call." Then, the man tables....

4 fucking 4

I realize how mean it is to berate someone, but I just can't help myself. Because, I mean, my God, he doesn't even have the four of diamonds in his hand and he immediately calls a bet from UTG from not only the tightest person at the table, but the tightest person in the tournament. And I just wonder why I bother establishing a table image that 87% of the people I play with are too ignorant to pay attention to. And I wonder when, if ever, I will have the bankroll to play in a game in which the majority of people DO pay attention to table image than don't. $1/$2 at the baot is a hit or miss crowd and I can't conceive of a point where I will be fiscally capable of playing $2/$5 so it becomes disheartening. Because I want so very badly to play in a game where I can hone my skills and get better, but I keep getting stuck in these situations where I have to dumb down my play and my thinking and it isn't helping me grow and develop as a player one lick.

Poker Paper--Part Deux

My fieldwork, conducted over the course of four months at the Caesars Indiana casino in Elizabeth, Indiana, focused on several regulars (I define regulars as those who play on average once a week) within the poker room and how they socialized with other players at and away from the table. While Caesars is the largest poker room in the region, boasting 33 tables, it is a far cry from the glitz, glamour, and action of Las Vegas or Atlantic City.[i] The riverboat casino is located approximately 20 miles west of Louisville, Kentucky and is surrounded by nature, save for a few homes and a factory across the river. Unlike Vegas, it is not a tourist destination, which means the games during the week are frequently composed primarily of casino regulars who have played with each other day in and day out for years. The lack of fresh money coming into the poker room in the form of new players is a concern repeatedly voiced by the regulars, many of whom worry the room is “drying up”. Players who were once devoted to Caesars now split their time between there and the Argosy Casino located almost two hours easst in Lawrenceburg, Indiana near Cincinnati. Some say Argosy has more profitable games and superior customer service, but others simply go there or take occasional trips to Las Vegas for a change of scenery.

Because the regular players are commonly forced to play against each other, metacommunication becomes of even more importance. When one player discussed what he termed levels of metagame, he said they are not as important when he plays the smaller $1/$2 NLHE stakes, but at the bigger game (typically $2/$5 NLHE) or a game with a number of regulars, they take on more significance. He delineated five levels of game play, dividing them based on the number of factors the player is considering in their decision making. The first, basic level is knowing what cards you hold. The second considers what your opponent might be holding. The third level adds the element of what your opponent thinks your holdings may be while the fourth incorporates what an opponent believes you think they hold. If that is not complicated enough, the fifth level accounts for assessing at what level each of your opponents is likely operating on.[ii] While these levels are his own personal creation, a majority of players I spoke with referred to reading people and situations as a major element of their game play. Moreover, they spoke of the higher stakes game of $2/$5 as a game which generally plays on a higher mental level than the smaller $1/$2 game, which many played in a more straightforward manner to accommodate the less experienced players who they perceive to operate on a lower “level”. While Caesars Indiana may not be indicative of a more urban casino location, its general lack of tourist traffic during the week provides an opportunity to observe more upper level interactions.

Taking a page from my informant, I have divided the array of metacommunication I observed in the field into three categories: the mandatory reflexive language required within the game, voluntary metacommunication within the game, and metacommunication away from the poker table. The mandatory metacommunication illustrates the ways in which reflexive language has been incorporated into the game and is an expected component of game play while the latter two categories are connected to precisely how people are able to influence decision making through the metacommunicative dimension of their performance in addition to establish and cultivate their image as a player and performer.

While it may seem unusual to consider the notion of mandatory reflexive language, the array of poker rules frequently require or stifle how a player comments on the action taking place. Though they do not participate in the gambling, dealers’ duties extend beyond simply passing out the cards. In order to keep the action moving, dealers narrate the action, announcing what is taking place even though players have already stated what they are doing. Some dealers gesture with their hand to indicate whose turn it is to act while others announce it verbally, stating something along the lines of, “30 dollars to you, sir”. When players cite what makes a good dealer, their efficiency in performing this task is usually atop the list. It is particularly crucial at Caesars because players pay a time rake to the casino of $6 every half hour. The alternative to time rake poker rooms is a pot raked game in which money is taken from the pot after each hand. The number of hands dealt in an hour matters in pot rake games as well, but Caesars players, who are generally not fond of the time rake, feel increased pressure to make the most of their time. Therefore, not only are dealers expected to keep the action moving through narration, but the players are expected to be clear in their actions as well.

When speaking with one of the Caesars dealers, they explained how their narration is strictly limited and must comment on the action as objectively as possible. For example, during one hand at a table I was playing at, the dealer was asked to read the community cards for a woman sitting at the end of the table who had difficulty seeing. After reading the cards, the dealer, who admitted they had not dealt poker in a number of months, also noted the possibility that the players in the hand could hold a straight or a flush. After I recalled the story to my dealer informant, he quickly informed me she was not allowed to contribute those types of comments. He went on to note how dealers cannot even tell a player how much money is in a pot or stack the chips into easily counted piles because it could influence the action. In his recollection of his career as a casino dealer, H. Lee Barnes described dealers as, “conduits through which probabilities find realization”, who are mistaken by players as an entity which is capable of dispensing luck and determining the outcome.[iii] While the card dealers are allowed to socialize with players during their half hour stint at a table, they cannot appear to be aiding a player in the game, holding some sort of control over how a hand plays out, or slowing the game down at all because of their interactions.

Players are limited in their commentary as well. When a player is not involved in a hand, it is considered bad etiquette to comment and verbally speculate what the other players might be holding. For players involved in a hand, the rules stipulate specificity within their own metanarration. At Caesars, the rules state if a person is making a raise and only throwing out a single chip, they must verbally announce the amount of the raise or else it will be considered a call. In other words, if one player bets ten dollars and another throws out a $100 chip with no verbal explanation of what their action constitutes, he is ruled to be making a call. When players contemplate the amount of a bet or raise, they often count out chips in stacks of five, pile them together in one stack, and, as they push the chips across the white line running around the table, state the amount of their raise, even if the one chip rule does not apply in order to make sure their action is clearly understood.

The rule is in place to avoid any misunderstandings about a player’s actions, but it also indicates just how influential metacommentary can be on events within in a given hand. Not only is metacommunication considered to be part of the performance, but it is perceived as something that must be strictly controlled in the spirit of fairness. With poker’s reputation as a game populated by grifters and thieves, the trust a casino cultivates from its players is of the utmost importance. Many of the players I encountered commuted to Caesars from locations over an hour away despite the fact there were local, underground home games in the towns they lived in. The overwhelming response was that they opted for Caesars because it provided them with a sense of comfort and safety, allowing them to focus on the game rather than worry about potentially being swindled or getting arrested. In addition to the security cameras populating the premises, the installation of the automatic shufflers at the table further cemented casino poker’s reputation of fairness. These tangible changes to the game are still not considered to be enough though, hence the imposition on what players and dealers can and cannot say during a game.

One could argue these restrictions influence the action as much as more overtly subjective metacommentary, however, what matters is only the appearance of objectivity. Dealers are required by the casino to provide narration which is, by nature, an interpretation of the event. Despite the subjectivity inherent in such a task, this form of metacommunication is policed so carefully in the rules and regulations of the game that it is aesthetically conveyed as a fair and balanced account of what has transpired. The dealer who identified the straight and flush possibilities was perceived as out of line by the players at the table and the other dealer because her commentary broke the objective aesthetic the dealers and casino strive for within their participation in the performance, even though she was providing an interpretation of the players’ actions much in the same way other dealers do. However, what can be learned from her diversion from the norm are the ways in which the audience’s perceptions of the performance and performer shift as a result of her deviation from acceptable metacommentary. In addition to feeling as though the hand was played out in a manner that gave an advantage to a player who may not have been observant to enough to see the straight or flush on her own, the dealer, who is expected to be as “fair” as possible, is now seen by the players as someone who may not be worthy of their complete trust.

[i] Harrahs Entertainment. 2008. 12 April 2008
[ii] Welman, Jessica. Field Notes. The player acknowledged that the 4th and 5th level tend to intertwine and even suggested they could be consolidated into a single level of thought.
[iii] Barnes, H. Lee. Dummy Up and Deal. Las Vegas: UNLV Press, 2002. p. 2

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Kentucky Derby Poker Championship Recap

Trust me, the title is more exciting than it sounds. But, being the poker nerd that I am, I made the trek to Caesars Indiana to check out the event and see just who bothered to show up. Well, that was a short list. They had a grand total of three tables, most of which were populated by two groups 1) The nine people who freerolled into it last weekend and 2) friends and fmaily of Phil Hellmuth.

However, because the F&F of the Poker Brat all traveled en masse, the event, which was supposed to begin at 8:30, got started about an hour late. Once it did begin, Hellmuth, Robert Williamson, Layne Flack, Kevin O' Donnell and a number of people you haven't heard of got things going. The tournament structure was...well, just kind sad. 5000 starting chips, 15 minute blinds (which started at 100/200), and a half hour rebuy period. They apologized numerous times for the bad structure, which I appreciated, but not once did anyone say anything (at least at the points I was watching) about being an hour late. Oh well.

My friend Brad played since he freerolled in, but when his opponent hit a 3 outer on the turn shortly after the rebuy period began, he was out. My favorite comment from him was, "Robert Williamson wasn't getting too tricky, just playing solid poker." I responded, "with 5 big blinds per person, is there really room for tricky?" and Brad just hung his head in defeat.

Phil elected himself to be tournament MC, ganked the mike and proceeded to talk virtually without pause for over two hours. I feel as though this might be some elaborate scheme to tilt his opponents, but it didn't work out for him, as he busted before the final table. That being said, I do appreciate the effort he made to keep it entertaining since there was a small crowd who couldn't really get close enough to see the action.

I must admit, I grew a bit bored and sleepy so I bounce when they reached the money (9 spots, which was...well....kinda silly, but, in all honesty, if I were one of the freerollers, I would've appreciated the shallow payouts myself. I've been looking around today for results, but no luck so far. Oh well.