Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Dark Arts, part II

The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.
-Star Wars, Episode III

It's one thing to be a poker player and not consider yourself a gambler. You're making plays based on pot odds and percentages, right? It's not like you're all-in with 83o and breathing the mantra "Any two cards can win."
And it's really not much different to take your poker prowess into the online realm. You're doing the same things you were before and are not a degenerate gambler.
But there is another plane to online gaming -- the online casinos that mirror the poker Web sites.
For a long time I've told myself, NEVER GO THERE. It's truly the Dark Side, to be playing where the house has the true edge in the long run. How bad off would you have to be to be wagering at an online slot, knowing brick-and-mortar slots aren't that great in the first place?
But then, how far would you go to save your bankroll? It's like Palpatine telling Anakin in Episode III, what if I told you Padme didn't have to ever die?
The past weekend, Mark and I have not only stepped across to the other side, we've totally leaped, chasing casino bonuses. And learning basic blackjack strategy along the way to burn off the bonuses.
I've written about it before. I like blackjack. I consider it to be a great way to take the edge off a long poker session.
And there are casino sites that offer money for you to play. 100 percent matching bonuses to $100.
Like I said before, it's one thing to play poker online. With the popularity of poker, it's not even a big deal to tell non-players in the outside world that you play at Party Poker, Ultimate Bet, PokerStars. They may even know about these sites.
But it may be a while before I tell people that I'm gambling at online casinos.
The bonuses are the key. Using ScurvyDog's guide to chasing casino bonuses, you learn that the house advantage in blackjack (like 0.5 percent) can be nullified with the profit that comes from a bonus.
That said, there is some real risk, as he warns that there is a small chance you can burn up your casino bankroll from variance making minimum $1-a-hand bets.
But I haven't seen it yet. Just from this weekend, I'm up about $650 and have played at 4-5 casino websites.
"It's like being paid to learn blackjack," I tell Mark over and over again.
It's really tedious, however, and you usually have to find some system of marking how many bets you've wagered, by hot key or with pen and paper. There's no automatic way of knowing like when you're chasing a PartyPoker or Poker Stars bonus.
It's exciting to win money so easily. But alarm bells constantly go off in my mind. What's next? The sports book? $1,000 prop bets?
Hopefully I will be able to jump back over to the other side when I need to.
But not just yet.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Almost human

Counselor Troi: How do you feel?
Picard (looking at his Borg implants): Almost human ... with just ... a bit of a headache.
-"The Best of Both Worlds, Part II," Star Trek: The Next Generation

So I'm back ... Almost. This month has been the month I've been looking for -- a $2,000 run and only about $200 of that from Raketracker and bonuses. Profitable trips to Vegas, Tunica and even to the Chicago suburbs plus a crazy two-hour, $600 run last night on Poker Stars' $.50/1 NL has brought me above $4,000. I'm still a ways from breaching my April 4 $5,000 mark, but I'll take it for now. Prior to Tunica I was down $500 for the year and was wondering if this is how it was going to be. But I think I'm playing better knowing that I have a better cushion.
Game selection has been the primary factor. Poker Tracker and Game Time + has made such a sdifference. Reading everything I can to improve my play also has helped.
I was successful in getting Mark's ticket, so it's very on for Tunica next week. I still have about 12 days of vacation left this year, so I'm looking at possible trips to Reno/Tahoe and maybe Atlantic City.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Whales hereabouts

Look sharp, all of ye! There are whales here-abouts! If ye see a white one, split your lungs for him!
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Chancellor Palpatine, Sith Lords are our specialty.
-Obi Wan Kenobi, Star Wars Episode III

Oh man. I'm sitting back, guzzling Diet Mountain Dews, elated at tonight's great chase: Following a ginormous fish from $5/10 on Poker Stars to $10/20, the highest limit I've ever played online. (I've played that in live games before at the Grand Casino in Biloxi, Miss. and at The Orleans in Las Vegas).
I spent a good part of this afternoon toiling away at the 20 percent to $120 reload bonus on $2/4 and some $3/6, just trying to find tables that were above 25 percent VP$IP (percentage of time a player voluntarily put money into the pot, as per Poker Tracker). I took a break and then decided to look around in $5/10. There, I routinely was playing at tables 30 percent VP$IP or higher. And the bonus burns so quickly at that level.
One guy was playing as high as 64 percent of his cards. I did a player search on him and found he was hanging out in $10/20. Oh, it's on!
I put my name on the waiting list for that table and then looked about trying to call in more troops from the USS Neteller. But I was denied. I didn't realize that there's a $600 a day limit on Neteller and I had reached that limit yesterday when I deposited money for the reload. Boy was I pissed!
So I had to be creative. I was two-tabling $5/10 and both of the tables were about 33 percent VP$IP. So I got out of one and hoped that it would be enough.
Soon enough i was at the table with my quarry. Almost immediately, I bluffed a pot and won some money!
But the dream would not come to pass. Mr. Fishie cut his own bait and ran, as I was 15 hands in. His leaving plummeted the table percentage rate. I was out of there soon enough. Plus $3! Woo hoo!
But it was an awesome exposure to what hopefully will be in my future. And $10/20 is closer to what Poker Girl plays. Hopefully soon I'll see her at the online tables. At $10/20, there were a lot of tight players there, but no play that I was afraid of. Using Poker Tracker (and Game Time +'s heads up display) is like spotlighting deer. It allows you to steer clear of your heavily armored prey. A 6 percent VP$IP raising me in early? Fuck no, I fold!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Chicago, at night

I was flying into Chicago at night/Watching the lake turn the sky into blue-green smoke/The sun was setting to the left of the plane/And the cabin was filled with an unearthly glow/In 27-D I was behind the wing/Watching landscape roll out/Like credits on a screen/The earth looked like it was lit from within/Like a poorly assembled electrical ball as we moved/Out of the farmlands into the grid/The plan of the city was all that you saw/And all of these people sitting totally still/As the ground raced beneath them thirty thousand feet down...
-Liz Phair

And that same black line that was drawn on you/it was drawn on me/now it's drawn me in/sixth avenue heartache
-The Wallflowers

CHICAGO -- Boy, if I don't fly on an Airbus ever again it won't be soon enough. My free ticket on United put me on an A319 into Chicago. When I got on, the plane's interior was very nice. Very streamlined lights and seats and other cabin fixtures. But up in the air, the plane kept making subtle rocking from side to side that made me think these things aren't as stable along the horizontal axis as the Boeings that I'm used to flying. I don't know a thing about planes but I never seem to feel this kind of thing in other planes.
I've done a marathon trip to four poker rooms in the area - Resorts (formerly Harrah's) in East Chicago, Ind., Trump Casino in Gary, Ind. (pretty much just down the street from Resorts), Hollywood Casino in Aurora, Ill. and Argosy's Empress in Joliet, Ill.
It was quite a ride, from O'Hare, right by the city and probably one of the most spectacular skylines you can ever hope to see. Passed by U.S. Cellular Field (home of the White Sox), which was great. The roads are pretty terrible in this area. If you don't get caught up by a bit of construction, you'll be on roads that look like they really need it.
After an hour, I was on the Chicago Skyway and into Indiana. I passed the Horseshoe, but didn't go there because I wasn't sure if there was a poker room. Made my way to Resorts. The poker room is on the top level of the riverboat. It looked really nice. I was so ready to play, as $5/10 was the lowest limit they had there. But it was pretty full and they gave me a beeper, telling me another table would go up soon. So I went and grabbed a burger and a malt. By the time I was done, I was ready to play! So I left the beeper at the casino cage and went down the street to the Trump Casino.
The Trump is a boat that is right next to the Majestic Star Casino, but I was told there isn't a poker room there. The Trump was a great place to play but it looked a little run down. The poker room is in a front section of the boat, a place that in other ferry boats usually is filled with spectator seats.
They had $3/6 full kill and I sat down to play. There was some middle age lady who kept going on tilt and complaining nearly every hand. One time, the dealer exposed the ace of diamonds for her hand, she looked around and then took it and put it back in her hand! The dealer was like "Um, you can't have that card" and later he was like "I've never seen anybody try to do that before." Another dealer dealt a misdeal and she steamed, saying, "Look what I have to throw away" -- she flipped up her cards and it was A8s. She was serious!
I made a catastrophic mistake -- this one guy who was the Kill position didn't post his $6 for the kill and the dealer didn't notice it and the betting came around to me, and, of course, I had AA. I tried to get the dealer to rectify the situation without tipping off my great hand. That didn't work. I won the pot, but I could have won more!! Oh, well. I was happy to cash out money there.
Today I went with my folks to the Hollywood Casino in Aurora. I hadn't been there in 7 years, so the promotions desk told me today. Back then it had first opened and I had a balance of at least $25 in cash that I could have cashed out. That was long since gone from their system. Hollywood was one of the first places I ever experienced a casino -- and one of the first places I played slots and video poker. Needless to say I sucked at these forms of entertainment.
Hollywood has changed itself a bit. Before they had two boats that you could go into. Now the space is turned into a single half-circle gaming floor. The poker room was neat. It had only $5/10 and $10/20 and all around it were large movie posters of poker and gambling movies, such as The Cincinnati Kid, Maverick, Casino and Honeymoon in Vegas. No Rounders, though, which would have been neat.
The play here was good. People were just burning up their stacks, probably because of inexperience in limit. I was a little surprised at the high rake 10 percent up to $6 maximum. And no comps. The room was nice, but the casino is going to have to join the new golden age of poker if it wants to be competitive -- and given good recommendations by reviewers and bloggers.
My dad had a bunch of fun playing 10-cent video poker. He loves it, knows the payouts and which machines to tackle. I would bet he does pretty decent at video poker, but it's nothing like flopping a flush in the small blind and having all kinds of people calling you to the river.
At the end of the day, I made my way to Argosy's Empress Casino in Joliet, Ill. This also was one of the first places I ever gambled and I had pretty fond memories of it. But I went here today solely on business -- to play in the poker room. Unfortunately it was empty and a whiteboard sign said "Poker room will reopen at 6 p.m. Sunday." I asked why it was closed and was told "It's always closed on Fridays and Saturdays." Why? The lady told me it's because there are no dealers and it's a small room.
So I really had no purpose being there. My fond memories of the boat were changed by the thick haze of smoke on the casino floor and also in the entrance hallway. It's no way to live. Plus, how can a casino not have a poker room open on the weekend?
Unfortunately the Empress is the closest casino with a poker room to my parents' house and now that I've played or visited the ones I know about in this area, I'm pretty much through. If traffic congestion from construction wasn't so bad, I could hop on the Tri-State (Interstate 294) to Indiana. But it's a real mess.
So I guess I'm done with live action here in Chicago. I'm up over $100, so I'm happy with that. And there's plenty of online bonuses that I have to do.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Ready to run

This should be agony.
I should be a mass of aching muscle, unable to move.
And, were I an older man, I surely would... ... but I'm a man of thirty -- of twenty again.
The rain on my chest is a baptism -- I'm born again...
I smell their fear -- and it is sweet.
-Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns

So I went running yesterday, for the first time in a month, and needless to say I'm fairly sore today. I was pretty happy about it though -- thankful that Patty is a good enabler about getting me to run -- the weather here in Atlanta was about 92 degrees, it was bright hot and humid as just about anywhere, except maybe Tunica. I think I had a pretty good pace, felt comfortable. You could feel the heat rise from the asphalt.
I think my endurance has been good because, even though I haven't been running, I have been on the bike to and from work. Hurricane season in the South has brought quite a bit of rain as far north as here in Atlanta and I've found myself leaving behind the skinny tires of the hybrid Trek that I bought with poker money (last year, when Lance Armstrong won his 6th Tour de France) for my fat, Kevlar-sided tires on my Cannondale mountain bike. It's easy to get into Atlanta's rolling hills when the Tour is on. Just a few more turns out of the saddle up the Col de Cat and I'll be on my way...
Poker plans have been solidified. I can't wait to be in an Indiana card room (hopefully as early as Thursday evening) and two weeks after that I'll be back in Tunica. I just hope it's as good as it was before. I'm planning with Drew a return to Las Vegas in September and I'm going to see my folks and grandmother in Las Vegas again around Halloween.
But this time around, with the new start of running, I hope I'll take more time to be more active. I'm sure it will pay off at the tables, with better endurance, and be positive EV for my long-term health.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Making the wrong moves at the right time

Lancey: Gets down to what it's all about, doesn't it? Making the wrong move at the right time. The Kid: Is that what it's all about?
Lancey: Like life, I guess. You're good, kid, but as long as I'm around you're second best. You might as well learn to live with it.
-The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

Like Steve McQueen/All I need's a fast machine/I'm gonna make it all right
-Sheryl Crow

Back in Atlanta, things seem to have an R&R feel about them and I really have longed to be back in some loose, fishy games. I tried to go back to Tunica this weekend, and would have made the 6 1/2-hour drive there from here but all of the casinos' hotels were booked up. So in place of that I've had to make do with NL100 on Ultimate Bet and $2/4 limit on Eurobet.
The downtime hasn't been too idle. Most of the crew played in our low-buy-in game yesterday. Lots of shorthanded hold'em, Omaha hi and 8, razz, deuce-to-seven Triple Draw and Mark introduced to us Mexican poker. It's like a form of draw poker, gin rummy, wild card game and a tournament all dressed up as one.
I'm planning a return to Vegas with Drew in September. I'd like to also return to Tunica sometime in August. Have to see when the availability is. Plus, I have to be ready for the Indiana poker rooms and the one in the Chicago suburbs when I visit my parents next week! I'm already excited. It's a perfect time of the year, too, with the WSOP (I was so sad that Greg Raymer and Phil Ivey got so close but so far from the main event title) and the Tour de France.
Mark and I today saw the 1965 movie The Cincinnati Kid, which is an interesting look at how poker was perceived a few generations ago. Take the locale - New Orleans. That the games were played in private rooms with cash on the tables and lots of cigarette smoke. It's awesome that the game deals with 5-card-stud -- that tells me that as the generations change, so does the predominate game. But classic women certainly don't. The movie has a very young and sultry Ann-Margret (the goddess is a tamer (?) -- but just as beautiful -- version of her).
How does one exactly make the wrong moves at the right time? I'd like to know. I think of Phil Ivey or Gus Hansen raising with trash cards and bomb-stealing a pot.

(Party Poker bonus for new players: KURO1, 20 % up to $100!)

Monday, July 11, 2005

Viva Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS -- "Throw a bluff on me so the next time I see your son I can tell him, 'Your momma's a bluffer,'" I say to the player in Seat 1 at a $1-2 NL game at the Sahara on Sunday morning.
That's Shirley Williams, the energetic mother of David Williams, they guy who won $3.1 million last year as the runner-up in the World Series of Poker's main event. Her son, unfortunately, busted out- he had 9-4 two-pair in a blind but his opponent made a flush on the river.
That's the funny thing about Las Vegas- you really never know who you'll run into or what interesting person will be seated next to you.
The new crew (Mark, me, Drew, Matt, Empire and Doug) are closing out a long weekend in Vegas. For me, it's been a profitable one, as I'm over +$700 right now and extremely happy that I've made a nice bit of money in two back-to-back weekends.
We've seen a lot of pros around, starting with Daniel Negreanu, Mike Sexton, Scotty Nguyen, Kathy Liebert, Mike Caro and others on Friday night at Doyle Brunson's WSOP party (also sponsored by Atlanta's Bluff magazine). It was like something out of a B-movie, you walk in a ballroom of the Rio pavilion and there are lots of California-chic hotties walking around and to top it off, on two pedestals at the end of the room, a pair of go-go dancers in stillettos and white bikinis.
People were still playing in the WSOP late that evening/Saturday morning- we could see Annie Duke sitting up in her chair, bouncing to music in her chair and a cool and collected Dan Herrington with his green BoSox hat at another table.
The story everyone was talking about was how Jennifer Harman-Traniello busted out of the WSOP on an extremely bad beat- she had the highest full house - Queens full but lost to a straight flush.
I saw Phil Hellmuth signing autographs in the expo hall in the pavilion and a very skinny Clonie Gowen signed one of her Full Tilt pictures. I didn't have the heart to ask her why she didn't call me for my article on Bluff magazine and I thought it would be too creepy to tell her I named one of my poker cats after her. Greg Raymer, who kindly called me for an interview, walked by me. I should have introduced myself but didn't. Amir Vahedi was outside the pavilion posing for pictures with people with his trademark cigar in his mouth.
We've played everywhere this weekend and I was pretty happy at the results. I cashed money at the MGM Grand's $4/8 (very nice, sophisticated poker room), the Bellagio's $4/8, $3/6 at Binion's downtown, and at the Mirage's $6/12 (finally- it's really like the first time I've ever cashed out money there). Of note-- the play at all of these limit tables was way easier than anything online.
At $6/12, the table was passive and one thing I noticed could explain why -- the two older guys to my right were both wearing Rolexes, sugesting this could be their version of $25-a-hand blackjack and they don't have to be very good at it. In fairness, they were decent, just passive like $3/6 or below players.
I made my money breaking two people at the Sahara's $1/2 NL-- lots of inexperienced players. But one of the guys I busted out was experienced -- he's a floor supervisor at the poker room, playing during his break.
Doug's had a nice run at $1-2 NL at the Sahara, cashing out $600 one evening.
It's made me feel better about my play in Las Vegas, the return of my cash bankroll and I look forward to coming back, but not before I go to Tunica.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Winning on the road

Winning feels good.
-Marketing slogan, Gold Strike Casino, Tunica

TUNICA, Miss. -- It's the Fourth of July weekend in Tunica and the level of activity on the casino floors at Gold Strike and the Horseshoe rival that of anything I've seen in Las Vegas. The places are packed, all of the table stations full, people in the aisles, many plugging away at slots. Unlike the pregnant smoker and the toothless people I've seen earlier in the trip, some of the most beautiful women I've ever seen are now here.
The poker activity has continued to be amazing. On Saturday night, there was some guy at my table who won $2,000 on a slot, lost it all on table games and now was playing something less expensive, $3/6 Texas hold'em. His brother spots him $100 after $100 as he continues to call raises and bets with abandon. I nearly double up before I get out of there.
After dropping about $300 at Hollywood's $3/6 tables, Sham goes on a wild all-night run at the Horse's $4/8. I see him about 2 a.m. Sunday morning with at least $200 more chips than he had. He ends up cashing out +$680. Once dejected before, he's now saying it's possible that he'll catch me. I'm like whatever.
My run continues. I've learned to pick out the juiciest games. I value bet and raise poor players whose only strategy is to chase cards and cripple their stacks, which makes their play even more erratic. I bluff them and they fold because they only see me have the best hand after best hand on the river. A semi-bluff teleraphs to them "Don't call. It's the nut." It's like nothing I've ever seen before.
It's been a good trip for all of us. Mark left Sunday up $250, making me relieved that no one back home can be angry with me for pulling him out to Tunica on his first day back in the States. Today, before my checkout, I'm up $912. I'm averaging about 2 big bets an hour and I've played for more than 30 hours here. That includes losing 27 big bets in a 3-hour session Sunday afternoon right after the crew drove home. I won one pot in 3 hours and lost miserably to a very drunk guy who took over the table on a crazy run that included Q3o utg. His cousin wasn't much better, but still was making out much better than I. But I made up for it against amateurs at Sam's Town later and back at the Gold Strike.
So I'm going home soon, happy and content. I hope this extends to Las Vegas this weekend. But for now, Gold Strike's slogan is right on the money: Winning feels good.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Crazy Poker Money- Tunica

TUNICA, Miss. -- Oh, man. Where do I start? If you're a low-limit player who wants to build a bankroll in brick and mortar casinos, then Tunica is the place for you. If you're into weak-passive as a style of (opponent) play, then this place is for you.
This is my third night here and I might have to return to Atlanta and pay my landlord my rent money in cash. And have plenty left over for Vegas the next weekend.
My friends and I have been loving being here. The lowest limit tables are $3/6 (Gold Strike, Sam's Town and I think Hollywood). I've found that pre-flop, people rarely respect your raises with premium hands and flop raises often confuse them. Many are happy to jettison your turn bet of $6. Just a few minutes ago, a lady kept betting at me when I had trip 9s. And then when I made the quad on the river. I'd raise her and she would call.
I'm not trying to embellish anything and apologies in advance because this explanation is too simplistic but I never encountered this style of play for the limit I've been playing anywhere -- not in Las Vegas, not in Biloxi, Miss., not in Kansas City, not in New Orleans and definitely not online. The play at Caesar's Indiana was close but not this fishy.
It is such a boost to have a trip like this, especially after not-so-great outings in Las Vegas. I wouldn't trade life in Vegas or trips there for anything but it's really nice to play here right now.
Thank you, Tunica!

Poker room breakdown:

Tunica has five poker rooms in casinos there: Gold Strike, Horseshoe, Grand, Sam's Town and Hollywood.
The Horseshoe is by far the nicest and it's newly rennovated. The lowest game there is $4/8 (I played an hour there today and found it fishy). They have the highest limit games there, with $20/40.
The Gold Strike is right next to the Horse and also has a pretty nice poker room. They have No-limit $1/2, Hold'em $3/6, $5/10, $10/20 and They also had $3/6 Omaha 8 and $4/8 Omaha High. (There are probably other games here- these are the ones I saw). The comps are great by the way. Two hours of play will get you $12 at a restaurant there for one person or $24 for two. You can combine them for a big meal with a group. Poker rate is $25 (I think) and you have to play 5 hours a day.
Grand Casino has a medium-sized poker room, lowest limit there is $4/8. They have other games including $2/5 NL but my friends and I have not been able to get in games there for our low limit.
Sam's Town has $3/6 hold'em. They have Krispy Kremes in the morning and hot dogs (like the Grand Casinos in Biloxi and Gulfport, Miss. do) in the afternoon. People are pretty friendly. The poker room looks like it could use an extreme makeover.
Hollywood, right across the street from Sam's Town has $3/6 -- it is in a neat cave-like alcove. The most tables I saw going were 3 -- two of $3/6 and one $1/2 ($200 max) NL.
This is not a complete list but simply what I've seen here so far.