LESSONS LEARNED – Part 1
While I was reading an article from the Boston Globe titled “Lessons Learned in a Pool Hall” by Carlo Rotella, the last line in particular stood out to me.
Rotella writes: “If you pay attention, you can learn something of value from whatever and whoever you find in front of you.” His words inspired me to write about the lessons I learned at the poker table over the years.
The first thing I learned is all players are in control of their destiny; a bad run cannot be blamed solely on bad beats. If you are managing your bankroll properly, a string of bad beats will not affect your bankroll because you are playing within your limits and making adjustments as necessary.
If you have a bad session, you may need to drop down in limit until you make it up before moving back up. The decision is all yours. That is one of the beauties of poker – you are in charge, but it is also one of its pitfalls. If you make mistakes in money management and get completely broke, you have only yourself to blame for playing above your means and jeopardizing your whole bankroll.
This leads me to my second point. I learned the hardest thing in gambling is dealing with your own demons. We all have a dark side that affects our play, and controlling those demons is such an important part of gambling.
I have seen sports betting and other forms of gambling take a toll on many poker players’ lives throughout the years. These players get tired of grinding at poker and give in to the urge to do something more exciting. They seek the adrenaline rush games of chance such as craps and blackjack give them. If poker was that easy, there would be many more successful poker players.
One of the greatest skills a poker player can possess is the ability to read opponents. An extreme example of this happened in a home game I was running. I had two players who kept needling each other. Both were drinking.
All of a sudden it got out of hand, and one of the players named Wayne reached across the table and slapped the other player called Doc. He got up without a word and left to go home, or so I thought. As I was addressing the issue with Wayne, there was a knock at the door, and to my surprise Doc was standing there. He walked back to his seat and said, “Let’s play poker.”
I went to get a towel to wipe the blood from his face, and as I walked back to the table, I noticed he had a gun under the table with the hammer back aimed at Wayne’s stomach. I was in shock. I walked over to Wayne and whispered to him, “Wayne, you better go. Doc has a gun under the table pointed at your stomach.” Wayne said, “I’m not leaving. If he was going to shoot me, he would have already shot me. Let’s play poker.” I learned that night that reading people might not just win you a pot but save your life.
The most important thing we all should remember is nothing is as important as family and friends. One of my best friends, and among the greatest people I have ever met at the poker table, was an attorney who sometimes let poker interfere with his family. He was always making comments about the time like, “I should have left a long time ago. I don’t know why I’m still here. My wife is going to be so upset.”
We didn’t take it literally until one night about 11 p.m. he was involved in a big pot when all of a sudden two diamond rings were thrown into it. Everyone was startled and looked up to see his wife standing behind him. She said, “You guys want to win it all? You might as well win these.”
It created quite a problem for the dealer. Of course, we gave the rings back, but after that we were always looking over his shoulder for his wife. We saw her one more time. She suddenly appeared and slapped him across the face and turned around and left. Blood was streaming down his face. He didn’t miss a beat and just kept on playing. He always struggled balancing his real life with what he loved to do, which is play poker.
Poker can be exciting and life changing, for better or worse. You can meet some of the best people and some really bad actors. In my next article, I will share more stories about life lessons from the poker table.
The Orleans poker room is running some strong promotions during January.
Cash drawings take place every hour from 8 a.m.-4.p.m. and 10 p.m.-2 a.m. on Fridays nd Saturdays, and from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sundays. Three $100 winners will be drawn every hour. Customers qualify by playing live Texas hold’em.
Random Hot Seat drawings are held every hour from 4-10 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday each week. Winners receive $100 and must be playing in a live Texas hold’em game during the drawing times to be eligible.
Every half hour from 8 a.m.-10 p.m., a random Texas hold’em table will be selected for a $50 “splashed pot.” Finally, every hour from 2-8 a.m., cash will be awarded to the Texas hold’em high hand with $100 paid out if the hand is made in a $4-$8 limit hold’em game, or a no limit game.
There will be $50 paid out if the hand is made in a $2-$4 limit hold’em game. See a poker team member for complete details on all promotions.
Bellagio: The 7,000 square foot poker room has 40 tables and two high-limit areas, the most prominent of which is Bobby’s Room – an exclusive two-table enclave named in honor of 1978 World Series of Poker Champion and MGM Resorts International Chief Design and Construction Officer, Bobby Baldwin.
For your ultimate enjoyment, the main smoke-free poker room hot spot also includes 24-hour table-side dining, complimentary beverage service, safe deposit boxes, a full-service cashier cage, overhead state-of-the-art music system, eight 32" television monitors, and 11 42" plasma screens.
The walls are adorned with artwork depicting past tournaments and World Poker Tour events, as well as a LeRoy Neiman-commissioned painting of high-stakes poker greats.
Featured games include: No Limit Hold’em ($1-3, 2-5, 5-10, 10-20 blinds and higher); Limit Hold’em ($4-8, 10-20, 20-40, 40-80, 80-160 and higher); Pot Limit Omaha ($1-3, 2-5, 5-10, 10-20, and higher); 7 Card Stud ($20-40, 40-80, and higher) plus Mixed Games ($4-8, 30-60, 40-80, and higher).
Bobby’s Room hosts the highest limit poker action in the world starting with a $20,000 minimum buy-in. The room is available by request 24 hours a day, and on any given day notable players may be playing. There are two poker tables with four television monitors and DMX overhead music.
The original LeRoy Neiman painting, which includes some of the highest limit poker players in the world (Lyle Berman, Bobby Baldwin, Doyle Brunson, Chau Giang, and others), offers quite a statement for the room.
Good luck, and may the “nuts” be with you!
What do we mean by “odds?”
Odds – the likelihood of a particular event – are essential in any game of chance, including life and the game of poker.
What are the odds of walking across a busy street without being struck by a car? (Best they are much in your favor.) What are the odds of making the nut flush when you catch two more spades to go with your A-K of spades in the hole?
In poker, we are concerned with the poker odds, which consist of two sets of odds:
Card: What are the odds against making the nut flush after you flop four spades while you hold, for example, the Ace and King of spades?
Pot odds: How many chips are in compared to your cost to call to see the next card or two?
It’s really easy to figure the card odds. You can do it in your head. For example, with four-to-the-nut-flush, start by counting your outs – how many unseen cards are there that will make the flush for you? In this case, there are nine more spades, one of which is waiting for you (hopefully). That gives you nine good outs.
There is also the chance another Ace, giving you top pair, or another King may do the trick as well. That would give you six more outs, for a total of 15. But, how sure are you a pair of Aces or Kings would be strong enough to take this pot?
What if an opponent caught two-pair or a set on the river; or a straight? So, let’s give half value to the 6 outs for another Ace or King. Now, we total up 9 + 3 = 12 outs.
Knowing the number of outs, we can easily calculate the card odds: After the flop, there are 47 (that’s 52 - 5) remaining, unseen cards. Twelve of these help your hand; so 35 don’t. Your card odds, then, are 35/12 or approximately 3-to-1 against making your hand.
If you expect to stay to see both the turn and river, then you have two chances to connect; so the card odds are about half of that (1.5-to-1 against). Note: You can also estimate these card odds by using the 4-2 Rule, which we will address in a later column.
By the way, in case you need it, there are lots of tables available that list the card odds for each value of outs.
Estimating the pot odds is even easier: Make a rough count of how many chips are in the pot after your opponent has made his bet; then divide that number by how much you will have to “invest” to call that bet. For example, let’s assume it’s a $4-$8 limit game, and there is $20 (chips) in the pot after your opponent bets $4. Your pot odds, then, are $20/$4 = 5-to-1.
Pot vs. Card Odds: Now, simply compare these numbers: the pot odds of 5-to-1 are higher than the card odds of 3-to-1 against. So long as the pot odds exceed the card odds, you have a Positive Expectation and, by calling, will win money over the long run.
By analogy, it’s like a coin toss where you are paid $5 when you win, but only pay $3 when you lose. What a great Return on Investment (ROI)! How can you beat it.
When I introduced the Hold’em Caveat as a new poker concept in the 3rd edition of Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision, the focus was on holecards that barely meet or slightly exceed the starting-hand criteria of the Hold’em Algorithm.
These are marginal drawing hands. (Note: We distinguish between “made” hands that can win without improvement, and “drawing” hands that usually must improve to win the pot on a showdown.) In developing the original concept, we considered only non-pair holecards.
With experience, I am now prepared to extend the Hold’em Caveat to small pairs in the hole. In particular, this applies to 7-7, regarded as playable in middle and late positions, and pairs from 6-6 down to 2-2 that are playable only in late positions.
Review: To remind you, the original Hold’em Caveat requires that the following two key conditions must be satisfied to warrant calling to see the flop when you hold a marginal drawing hand as your holecards: (1) the pot is not raised – nor likely to be raised; and (2) it is a multi-way pot with three or more opponents staying to see the flop.
Explanation: A raised pot makes it too costly to pursue marginal starting-hands; you will not win often enough for it to be a sound financial venture. And, with two or fewer opponents staying to see the flop, the implied pot odds are not likely sufficiently attractive to warrant you making that investment. (You would have a Negative Expectation.)
About Small Pairs: Starting with a pair in the hole, the odds are 7.5-to-1 against flopping a set. At the same time, an opponent with two non-paired holecards, has odds of only 2-to-1 against pairing one of his holecards. If you hold a small pair, say 4-4, and two opponents call holding two higher holecards – for example, 6-5 suited or 10-9 offsuit, then quite likely, one will be ahead of you after the flop – leaving you a huge underdog with just 2 outs. At that point, you would be chasing by calling bets on the turn or the river – almost a sure recipe for losing your chips.
It is true that you are a small favorite against a single opponent who does not hold a higher pair in the hole. Problem is, unless it is a very aggressive game, you cannot win much money playing against a single opponent. If he does not improve on the flop, and you bet, he probably will fold, leaving you with a very small reward for your investment. And, if the flop has two or more overcards to your small pair, you would be wise to fold if your opponent bets out – unless he is a very loose or deceptive player.
Best way to play small pairs: All things considered, it makes good sense to apply the Hold’em Caveat to small pairs in the hole. If the two key criteria are not satisfied (see above), muck your small pair and wait for a better hand. Be patient. It is that simple. . . The few times you improve to a small set on the flop (1 out of 8.5 times) just is not worth the investment.
(If only you had a crystal ball!) In the long run, small pairs are losers – unless the Hold’em Algorithm and Hold’em Caveat are satisfied. It takes a good-size pot to warrant investing many chips in such holecards. In a limit game, that can only happen in a multi-way pot. You might consider staying to see the flop in a no-limit game against one or two opponents, provided that there is no raise preflop. In that case, plan to see the flop; then fold if you do not connect – unless you get a free card on the turn. . .
LESSONS LEARNED – Part 2
In my last article, I discussed the life lessons I learned at the poker table. You can read it at www.gamingtoday.com/columnist along with my previous columns. Because I have been playing poker nearly 50 years, I have a few more stories to tell.
You meet some of the best people at the poker table. However, you cannot judge a player by the persona he projects at the table. Many players are completely different away from the table.
One great example is Phil Hellmuth. His image at the table in no way reflects Phil off the table. He is a caring, sincere gentleman and a devoted family man. He is nothing like the man at the table. Of course, there are some bad actors, and what you see at the table is what you get in real life, but that’s rare.
Poker is filled many wonderful characters, but it can also put you in dangerous situations, and one extreme example almost cost me my life.
I was playing in Alabama at a friend’s game in Guntersville – a beautiful city located on a lake. The idyllic setting is in stark contrast to what happened next. I had played poker all day in a small hotel suite and quit around 9 p.m. to play gin with a guy on the bed next to the door.
A few moments later, there was a knock at the door but it sounded unusual, so it caught everyone’s attention. It sounded like someone was tapping metal on the door. The gentleman running the game asked, “Who is it?” The man identified himself as Johnny. The door didn’t have a peephole, so the host of the game opened the door a crack.
As he did so, the person tried to push the door open. My friend pushed back, but a shotgun barrel came through the door near my shoulder and fired. It was so close I could smell the gunpowder. As everyone dove to the floor, the suspect ran off. Someone hollered, “Is anyone hurt?” One of the players was shot in the arm and lost its use.
After this close call, I kept asking myself, “Why, with a young daughter at home, did I put myself in this situation?” In Alabama poker players feared three things: the police, cheats and hijackers. I determined right then I would move to a place where poker was played in a structured, safe atmosphere, so I went out to California. It was the best decision I ever made.
On a lighter note, the money you make in poker can sometimes seem like play money. This story puts it back in perspective. In one of my regular games a player named TJ normally lost every day. He owned a construction company that generated a lot of money.
On this particular day, he won a huge pot, around $20,000. In those days when you left the table, you took your money with you when you got up. TJ folded up the wad of $100 bills and said he was going to the bathroom. We kept playing and about 20 minutes later we noticed he hadn’t come back. I went looking for him and couldn’t find him. He actually slipped out the door and left.
About an hour went by, and we heard someone honking a horn outside. I looked out the window, and there was TJ in a brand-new yellow Cadillac. He said, “Get Ray Hall out here.” Ray was the one he beat out of the money. He said, “How do you like this new Cadillac you bought me, Ray? Would you like to go for a ride?” Ray didn’t mind losing to TJ because he usually won it back. But not this time.
Every day from then on he would say to Ray, “Look at this car you bought me.” And every day he would lose, but we never forgot the day he locked up his winnings.
The Cadillac story illustrates how quickly fortunes can change in poker. This next story shows how actual fortunes are won and lost. James Roy, one of the best No Limit players nicknamed Shany, was a good friend of Jack Binion’s and travelled with another player nicknamed Chicken Man.
James would often tell the story that Chicken Man’s daddy left him a sawmill and he turned it into a toothpick. James continued, “I only used to have a toothpick, now I have a saw mill.” That shows how dramatic the swings at the poker table can be.
Like I said in my first article, you can learn from whoever or whatever is in front of you in poker and in life. I have many other stories to tell. Share your stories with me at email@example.com.
As the American Gaming Association seeks to discourage addictive gambling, it also encourages casinos to post a Patron Code of Conduct with rules to which players must adhere.
While waiting for a seat at the $4-$8 limit hold’em game, I was reading the Hustler Casino Patron Code of Conduct (issued August 11, 2013). All in all, it has 17 regulations covering a wide range of topics designed to protect the players as well as the casino.
Examples: No loitering; No soliciting; No sleeping on casino property; Please be respectful and courteous at all times; No spitting of gum, tobacco or other substances; Smoking prohibited in the casino and within 20 feet of any entrance; Hoodies are not allowed; Proper attire must be maintained at all times.
I found it interesting that the Code of Conduct does not include the requirement that all people entering the casino must be 21 years of age or older. (It’s lower in Indian casinos.)
It is appropriate and commendable that the casino has such a document, and it is well displayed with copies available to all. I won’t dwell on all of the items in the Code, but several caught my attention and are worthy of special note:
• No abusive or threatening language or physical gestures toward casino staff, including security staff, or to other patrons.
• English only while at the gaming tables.
• Any activity deemed to be collusion, dishonest or a form of cheating will not be tolerated.
The Code does not deal directly with drinking alcoholic beverages that are readily available from the cocktail waitresses and at the bar.
Personally, I make it a rule to drink only non-alcoholic beverages while playing poker. I want my mind to be as clear as possible so I can best observe my opponents and can make the best decisions in my favor.
I “love” to be at a table where my opponents are drinking heavily and paying attention to the basketball game being shown on the wall TV, or engaged in conversation with people not in the game. This gives me an edge over these players.
To the extent the Code of Conduct warns against abusive or threatening language or behavior, it does imply a degree of control of excessive drinking of alcoholic beverages. Rarely have I seen players who are obviously drunk, although I suspect a few may have been on drugs.
On rare occasions, I have observed security staff escorting a person from the casino. Certainly, where large sums of money are involved, it is appropriate to take such precautions.
It makes good sense to require only English be spoken at the gambling table. For one thing, it could preclude the appearance of collusion between players who speak a foreign language to one another. I have observed a few instances when a foreign language was spoken at the table – with no warning from the dealer or floor person. I chose to believe the foreign language discussion was perfectly honest, but I couldn’t be sure.
The days of the Mississippi river boat gambling with skilled cheaters, are long gone. But that doesn’t mean there will be no cheating at the tables. Personally, I have observed “suspicious” behavior that suggested collusion between two players at the table; even an occasion when I thought the dealer was cheating. (Note: These were at other casinos, not at the Hustler Casino, which,I believe takes special efforts to protect its patrons).
Regarding sleeping on casino property, it is not unusual for players to dose off while seated at a table. This is most likely at the wee hours of the morning when the big losers are struggling to win back some of their losses. They should realize they give themselves a big disadvantage over the more alert players.
Morale of the story: Tomorrow is another day!
Meanwhile, by all means, become familiar with the Code of Conduct at your favorite casino.