Wednesday, November 6, 2019

PokerStars PA is live for Pennsylvania residents

Thought I'd check back in here to point out that online poker is once again legal for Pennsylvania residents. Following PokerStars NJ, which launched in 2016, PokerStars PA on Monday became the second state-sanctioned online poker site to open its tables for real-money play. The first two days were a soft launch with limited hours of operation, but as of this afternoon the site is officially up and running full-time.

I threw a couple hundred dollars in and have been splashing around at the $0.25/$0.50 NLHE tables for shits and giggles. PokerStars feels ... pretty much exactly how it felt back when I used to run the Three Rivers Poker Club from this site. (Anyone remember that?!) Setup was a little more complicated than I thought it would be, largely because I had a piece of software on my computer that could allow for remote access. The PokerStars PA client won't run if it detects software that could be used to skirt the "you must be in Pennsylvania" rule. I messaged PokerStars support, and they were able to identify the problem in short order. I deleted the offending software and was sitting at a digital poker table just a few minutes after that.

Right now Pennsylvania residents can only play against other Pennsylvania residents online, across the usual assortment of cash games, sit & go's and bigger tournaments, but eventually the PA and New Jersey player pools are expected to be combined. As for me? I'm up $20 after a few hours of play! Hey, I'll take my small-stakes wins where I can get them.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The bad beat to end all bad beats

I'm bringing this blog out of hibernation because the hand that ended my $1/3 NLHE session at The Meadows on Monday night demands it. It's the type of hand that will be remembered and discussed for years, not just by those involved to the end, but by everyone at the table who was present and bore witness to its very asininity.

A few hours into the session, I was sitting ~$100 up. The table was consistently short-handed, around seven players, with everyone playing fairly straight-forward poker. Then Short Stack sat down. I'm calling him Short Stack because ... well, you'll see. Short Stack was a large, black man with swagger and a mouth that could run for days. He had come from the blackjack tables, and I'm pretty sure he was drunk when he arrived. And, if not, he was about to be, as he had no sooner plopped down at the table when he ordered a top-shelf Long Island Iced Tea.

Short Stack bought in for a measly $100 and immediately declared that "the Short Stack" -- as he constantly addressed himself -- wasn't going to take any shit, that the Short Stack was going to quickly turn his tiny pile of chips into two grand. (I pointed out that there wasn't even $2,000 total in play on the table and was quickly told that rebuys would be coming.) After making these bold proclamations, this guy started put his money where his mouth was and -- and I kid you not -- doubled up on three of his first five hands. Not only was he talking massive amounts of shit, he was getting the cards to back it up. Short Stack flopped a nut flush and doubled-up against my friend Shawn who shoved with a straight-flush draw. He played 5-8 and made two pair. He called a pre-flop raise with 2-7 and hit trip sevens on the turn. Short Stack was going to the flop with pretty much any two cards, smashing the board once he got there and getting paid off by the end of the hand. I've never seen a new player at a table have so much crazy luck right off the bat, and, within 20 minutes, he had $1,000 in chips in front of him. He was already halfway to his ridiculous goal. Amusingly, he still insisted on calling himself "Short Stack" even once his stack became the biggest at the table. ("Short Stack is making moves! Short Stack ain't fucking around!") It was hilarious and annoying and entertaining and aggravating all at the same time. The more he won, the looser he played. And though I believe most of the table suspected he was starting to mix crazy bluffs in with all of his ridiculous luck, no one had been able to catch him on one yet.

Meanwhile, as I tried to get acclimated to a table where all the rules had changed, my stack had dwindled a bit to just over my original $240 buy-in. Then, some luck -- Q-Q from under the gun. I briefly considered limping, planning a three-bet once someone (likely Short Stack) inevitably raised, but ultimately decided it would be better to start building a pot immediately. I bumped it to $12. A couple of callers, and when it got to Short Stack he instantly raised to $100. Folds around to me, and I just as quickly shoved all in. Folds from the early callers, and then the action was back to Short Stack. He looked at me with wide eyes.

"Let me ask you this," he said. "Do you want me to call?"

"Yes," I answered, staring right back at him.

"Because I might have a monster!"

"That's fine."

"You sure you want me to call?"


He glanced back at his cards and got a little squirmy.

"Okay, my hand's not very good," he said. "I'll probably suck out on you. You still want a call?"

"Yes," I answered. "You should call."

So that's what he did, throwing some green $25 chips in across the line signify his intent. He shugged and quickly rolled over his hand ... Q-2.

Jesus Chris this guy, I thought. Short Stack is insane.

"Well, you're crushed," I said, revealing my queens as I did. Then, remembering the preposterous streak this guy was on, I quickly added, "But don't worry. I'm sure your diamonds are going to get there." He just shrugged and took a drink of his Long Island Iced Tea.

I awaited the flop, expecting to see at least two diamonds, and felt a deep well of relief when the flop came three blanks, rainbow, no diamonds.

The hand was clearly over. A look of hazy disappointment settled on his face -- perhaps him realizing that his streak of luck had ended. I relaxed, waiting to be pushed my chips once the formalities had been completed.

Then the turn came: 2.

The table laughed. I laughed. Of course Short Stack had enough luck left to make this mildly interesting. Wasn't going to change the end result, of course, because that would be ridiculous. I certainly wasn't concerned. But the deuce did amuse everyone who had been watching this guy smash the board non-stop since he sat down.

The dealer peeled the river. I'll never forget the feeling of watching the back of that card morph into the 2 as the card was flipped. It was like time had slowed down -- the crushing inevitability of what was happening turning the seconds into hours. The table, of course, exploded. I've never heard so much noise at a poker table before. I just stared at that deuce, unable to look at Short Stack, the dealer or anything else.

We've all taken bad beats, and when you do it usually feels like a dagger in your gut, a pit of despair forming in your stomach. This one didn't feel like that. It's like my brain couldn't process what was happening enough for the feeling to even reach my stomach. What just happened could not have happened. It was impossible. The fabric of reality itself seemed suspect. That river couldn't be real. Thus the hand wasn't real. Was anything real? Was I even playing poker? Was I asleep and this a nightmare?

I dropped my head to the table, burying my forehead into my arms and the felt. Laughter and the shouts of four-letter expletives echoed all around me. My brain felt short-circuited, having fried itself trying to make what just happened fit into a rational world. After a moment, I lifted my head and looked at Short Stack. A massive smile stretched across his face as he pulled in his chips. "I warned you," he said. "I told you this would happen, but you wanted me to call. You told me to."

I went to the restroom and returned to the table a few minutes later to tell my friend goodbye. The table was still talking about the hand. When Shawn texted me a few hours later, the table was still talking about the hand. I presume that today the table continues talking about the hand. In the years that follow, when folks from this table see a bad beat and the loser begins to complain, they will say, "Well, if you think that's a bad beat ..." and proceed to tell the story of this hand.

The math breaks down as such: Preflop, once the money is in, I was 89 percent to win. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it's the most favorable pre-flop percentage you can have, excepting the exact same scenario when your opponent's cards aren't suited. It's dominant, but at least the 11 percent chance coming in to beat me is a thing my brain is able to process. After the flop, I was somewhere between 98.1 and 99.7 percent to win, depending on whether he also had the possibility of hitting a runner-runner straight. I don't recall for sure whether he did or not because, at that point, with no diamond on the board, I was really only thinking about collecting my chips. Though I am fairly sure he did not (which would make this a true three-outer into two-outer, gotta-hit-both-to-win affair). And, really, what's the difference? Neither should hit outside of a scene from a bad poker movie.

I've been playing poker much more casually these days, as evidence by the lack of updates to this blog. I hit a few home games over the summer, but Monday was the first time I'd been back to a casino poker room since late winter. After this hand -- after this unfathomable, absurd hand -- I don't feel in much of a hurry to go back.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sometimes the poker gods smile upon thee

Had my best session in well over a year at The Meadows last week, winning more than $600 at a $1/3 NLHE table. It was one of those sessions where everything worked. I smashed flops and got paid. Every bluff I ran scared folks away. And, yes, there was a bit of good luck at play too. Take this lovely hand ...

A good, somewhat tight player raised it up pre to $12. I called holding 10-10. We were the only two to go to the flop, which came 9-7-7. The other guy C-bet $20, and I made it $60 to go, wanting to end it right there if he was holding A-K or A-Q. He called fairly quickly, which obviously dampened my enthusiasm for this hand.

Turn came the A, not a great card for me unless I wanted to turn the hand into some kind of semi-bluff (like pretending I was holding A-9, maybe). I did not want to do that. He checked, and I checked behind. At this point, I was more than content to just check down the hand.

Until the river came a gorgeous and unexpected 10, that is. He checked, and I pushed out a neat $100 stack. He considered it for a long, long time, trying to put together the clues and solve the mystery of what I was holding. Which was, of course, pretty much impossible. The way things played out, it was just an indecipherable hand. I know I wouldn't have been able to figure it out, had I been in his seat.

He asked if I would show if he folded. I politely told him I would not. (Pretty much my standard answer, and one I'd recommend to anyone facing that question in almost any circumstance.) Finally, he pushed out his own $100 stack to call.

"You're going to be sick," I said and revealed my rivered full boat. He eyes glanced back and forth between my cards and the board, then he muttered a few obscenities before leaving the table for good. He never showed, but I'm pretty sure he had pocket jacks. (That makes the most sense anyway.) Just a brutal hand for him. A lot of fun for me though!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Computer A.I. outsmarts pathetic, fleshy humans in no-limit holdem at Rivers Casino

Late last month, four poker pros came to Rivers Casino on the North Shore to square off against "Libratus," a poker playing A.I. developed by Carnegie University School of Computer Science professor Tuomas Sandholm and Ph.D. Student Noam Brown. Long story short, the humans got their asses kicked.

From an artificial intelligence standpoint, this is huge, as no-limit Texas Holdem had previously been thought to rely too much on "human" elements (bluffing, subterfuge, betting variances) for a computer to master. Not any more, as machines may now overtake human poker players much as they have in chess.

The event got a ton of press in both the poker and tech communities, some of the best of which I'm linking to here:

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette -- All in: CMU's poker computer busts humans over 20-day competition

Wired -- Inside Libratus, the poker AI that outbluffed the bust humans

Slate -- A new poker A.I. eviscerated its human competition, and it's a beautiful thing

PokerListings -- Libratus poker AI beats humans for $1.76m; is end near?

F5 Poker -- One giant leap for AI: Carnegie Mellon University poker bot spanks humans!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Triple-barrel blergh

Played in the evening tournament at The Meadows with a buddy just a few Fridays back and busted out within the first half-hour when I got flush-over-flushed. Moved on over to a $1/3 NLHE cash table and bought in for $220. Spent a few hours with a stack that went a bit up, then a bit down, then back, but was largely unchanging. Started to get tired and told my friend (who had also busted from the tournament and was now sitting next to me) that I was likely going to leave soon. Then this nonsense occurred ...

A handful of limpers in front of me. I limped from the button with 56. Small blind called. Big blind checked: Flop: 3-4-10. All opponents checked around to me. The dealer, mistakenly thinking I checked as well, made a move like he was going to burn and turn. I theatrically put a stop to that.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" I declared for the table to hear. "I didn't check. Nah, I gotta bet this. I got to!"

I pushed $20 out into a pot that had about that much in it. I got one caller, a quiet, older man sitting at the other end of the table with a massive stack of about $1,000 in front of him. He called fairly quickly.

Turn came the 8. He checked. Solid chance he was on a flush draw, so it seemed like a good spot to take another stab. I bet $55, leaving myself around $110 back. He took a bit longer this time, considering his decision for a good half-minute or more before pushing the $55 out there.

No more theatrics now. Not only that, I began regretting all the talking I did at the beginning of the hand. But back then it was a stupid limped pot with little suited connectors. It wasn't supposed to grow into anything this massive! I prayed to the poker gods to drop black seven on the board and let me off the hook.

River came the 4, and he checked again. Only two options now: Check-lose and save half of my stack or draw a line in the sand and get the rest of my money in there. That river card couldn't have helped him. No draws got there. And if he had flopped a real hand, why hadn't he ever raised to protect it?

I rarely triple-barrel bluff. Seriously! Hardly ever. But I was tired. I knew I was about to go home. I knew there was only one way to win the hand.

I pushed the rest of my stack out into the middle of the table.

One minute passed. Then two. By the time minute three approached, I was sure he was going to fold. In my experience, by this point, if someone was going to find a call they would have already done so. I kept still, my eyeline set on a fixed point. And I waited.

And after another minute, he reached what was obviously a tough decision ... and pushed a large stack of chips (from his even much larger stack) out into the table to call.

I exhaled sharply and simply said, "Very good call, sir. I believe I have six-high." He rolled over 10-J. He had flopped top pair, middling kicker and called me down the whole way.

I calmly wished everyone good luck and left the casino. In my car on the drive home, I kept finding new ways to regret the hand. Why did I get involved for all my chips on a limped pot with baby suited connectors? Why did I do all that showboating at the beginning of the hand, which could have very well tipped this guy off that I had flopped a draw as opposed to a made hand like two pair or a set (when I may have buttoned up as soon as the cards hit the table)? Why did I let my guard down for that one hand? And why assume that the guy with the ginormous stack was going to be scared away by my last $100?

It had been a long time since I triple-barrel bluffed. I think it'll likely be a long time before I try it again.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Finally, I have my own "grump" tale

One of the first poker blogs I started reading somewhat regularly was Robert Woolley's Poker Grump blog. Although, at the time, I only knew him by his online handle, "Rakewell," the name I still think of when I read his writing, either at his blog or at Poker News. Rakewell has a favorite hand that is well-known to his readers and other members of the poker-blogging community: the mighty deuce-four. His blog is littered with posts about holdem pots he took down with the unassuming hand, and 2-4 (preferably NOT suited because, as Rakewell would say, then you can make two kinds of flushes with it) eventually became known as "the grump" throughout online poker circles. Poker bloggers all have stories about hands they won with the grump. Well, all of them except me ... until now.

Saturday night, $1/3 NLHE at The Meadows. I was in for $420 and down to my last $103. I had decided to call it a night but planned to limp in with my last three white chips in a hand where I was likely to see a flop before cashing out for a single hundred-dollar bill. (Unless I smashed the flop, of course.) I folded on the button, but in the very next hand I peeked down to see 2-4 staring at me. It's the grump, I thought. I have to play it. Sure enough, the table limped around to me, and I threw my final three white chips into the pot. Then my dad, who was sitting on the button on my immediately left, decided to raise it to $6 for some ungodly reason. (Don't ask me to explain. My father often plays his own brand of poker.)

Of course everyone with cards threw in the extra three bucks, so I had no choice but to do the same. (Actually, I did have a choice. I probably could have just over-shoved and taken down all the loose change, but I was too tired to be pulling moves like that.) So, annoyed that my dad was making me cut into my neat $100 stack, I threw in a red and pulled two whites back to cover his shitty raise. The flop came 2-2-7.

Heh. Okay. Thanks for inflating this pot a bit, Dad!

A player sitting early led out for $10. He got a caller. I decided to slowplay and just call. My father called. Another player behind him called. Pot was up to ~$90. Turn came the A, which I figured was a good card for me, as it was likely someone out there had an ace and perhaps even A-7. First two players checked, and I bet $40 of the $87 I had back. (Figuring I had the best hand, I didn't want to go too big and scare away a weak ace. I could just get the rest in on the river.) Everybody folded except for the player who was under the gun, who had done nothing but limp, check and call so far. He called my $40. River came the 4.

The poker grump was right. This hand is magic!

My opponent checked, and I shoved in the rest of my stack. He took a good couple of minutes to think about it, then said "I think you might have me out-kicked" before calling and turning over A-9.

"I have a full house," I said, and you could tell he didn't quite believe it until I got my cards flipped over a second later. He just shook his head. The rest of the table laughed.

Then, the best part is, a player sitting across from me who had folded preflop said, "You are not going to believe this, but I had 2-4 too and folded it. I spent the whole hand wishing I had those cards back."

See? That guy should have been reading the Poker Grump all of these years. He would have known the deuce-four's true power ...

Saturday, March 7, 2015

It's possible I'm a huge asshole

One of the most fascinating things to me about poker is how people play against their friends and family at a casino or in a competitive setting. Playing poker is supposed to be fun. I prefer to sit at a table with people I know and love and can talk to in between hands. At the same time, I am one competitive mofo and prefer to play as hard against people I know as those I don't. And in return I prefer they play just as hard back at me. But not everyone subscribes to this theory, which I understand. I can have fun, play cut-throat and not be pissed if my friends take my money. Not everyone can.

So on Friday I was playing $1/3 NLHE at the Meadows. It was a lively, chat-happy table. No one was being overly aggressive, but a lot of people were in a lot of hands. I was lucky enough to be playing with both my father and a good friend of mine. I had lost my first buy-in but was beginning to crawl my way back to even when I was dealt K-10 in mid-position. There were a few limpers in front of me, and I raised it up to $13. A whopping six players called behind me. I started shit-talking as everyone was throwing their chips in.

"Oh, come on," I said. "I've got a monster here. What are you guys doing? No one ever believes me when I raise. I'm about to teach you all an important lesson."

Everyone chuckled. Again, it was a fun table.

Flop came K-10-10.

Holy shit.

My father, who was sitting in the big blind, led out for $50. Couple of folds around to me. I just smooth-called, hoping to pick up another caller from behind me, but everyone else folded. Turn came whatever because who cares? My hand was made on the flop.

My dad said, "Just us two?" I nodded yes, and he quickly checked.

Oh, crap.

I knew exactly what was happening here. My dad just wanted to check down as we were the only players left in the hand. I figured he had a king and guessed that he thought he had the best hand. But he was now playing "friendly poker" with his son. And maybe if I wasn't an asshole I would have checked it down with him. But the thing is: I just don't have that in me.

You wait weeks ... months ... years to raise with K-10 and flop a full house. These are the hands you dream about. If you're not going to bet with this hand -- I don't care who it's against -- you might as well just give up the game. Not betting with this hand feels disingenuous. To yourself. To everyone else sitting at that table. To the spirit of the game itself.

I basically made it obvious I was sitting on the virtual nuts. (Technically K-K was the nuts, but there was no way my dad wouldn't have re-raised me pre-flop with that hand.) I kind of chuckled. "Dad, I'm sorry," I said. "I can't not bet here." I exaggeratedly eyeballed my cards. I laughed again and pushed out $100 in chips.

I assumed my father would just fold. I was making it obvious I was sitting on a monster. And, yes, I understand that there's not much of a difference between me checking down with him and me putting out a bet and making it clear I can't be beat so that he'll fold. Those two actions lead to the same outcome, but, for whatever reason, the second one feels to me like it has more integrity. Pushing those chips out there feels more in the spirit of the game.

I could tell he was pissed immediately. "I can't believe you're betting me!" he said. Then he did the last thing I expected. "Well, if that's how it's going to be I'm putting you all-in." He shoved in the rest of his chips, more than enough to cover the $80 or so I had behind.

I leaned back in disbelief. "Dad! No! What are you doing?!"

"Well, I've got a 10, ya jackass," he said. Afterward, he would claim he wasn't assuming that he had me beat, but I'm pretty sure he thought exactly that.

I called, of course, and turned over my hand. He flipped up Q-10. The table erupted in laughter. After a meaningless river card, the pot was pushed my way, and the jokes started flying fast and furious. Lots of talk about he should have beaten me more as a child. (Note: My dad never beat me as a child! He was a great father!)

For the record, things turned out okay in the end. He got some of that money back, as I lost about $100 in a hand to a third player who my father later felted. We both cashed out up for the night, and he actually won considerably more than I did. We talked this morning and laughed about it, though it's clear he still thinks the right thing to do is to check down with your old man, the integrity of the game and how the rest of the table feels about it be damned.

I obviously feel differently. My standard operating procedure is to play hard but straight-forward against friends and family. Obviously, anything goes so long as there are other players in the hand. Once it's heads up, I'm not going to check-raise someone at the table who I care about. I'm not going to run a tricky bluff for a smallish pot or anything. But I am going to bet a made hand. And I am sure as hell going to bet a full house when I raised the pot preflop with K-10.

It doesn't mean I don't love ya, Dad. It's just the way I'm built. (Or perhaps it's the way I was raised! Hmm ...)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Huge laydown against a friend ... but was it the right decision?

Here's an interesting hand from a $1/3 NLHE session I played at The Meadows this past Friday. Jason, a good friend of mine who I play with from time to time, raised it up to $15 from early position. I called with J-10. One more player sitting behind me called. Flop came A-J-4. All three of us checked. Turn came the 10♠ -- giving me two pair -- and things got interesting. Jason led out for $20. I min-raised to $40. Third guy in the hand folded. Back to my buddy, who thought for a moment and then shoved all-in for ~$130 over top. (I had him covered.)

What to do? What to do?

I think this would be a fairly interesting hand to discuss no matter who the villain in the story was, but the fact that it was my friend adds an extra layer of intrigue to it. It's not that we play all that differently against each other. We're both pretty competitive and not shy about taking the other's stack if the opportunity arises. If anything, you could likely surmise that neither of us were flat-out bluffing, as we're much less likely to run some kind of long con or aggressive power play against one another (especially once the third player in the hand dropped out). We don't play soft against each other, but we might play a tad more straight-forward.

So, with that information, do you call or fold?

These were my thoughts: No way he was doing this with a bare A-K or A-Q because (a) he almost certainly would have continuation-bet the flop with those hands and (b) he'd have to put me on a hand stronger than that (even though I only min-raised). What made sense to me was either he flopped a monster (A-A, J-J or A-J) and checked the flop wanting to see if either I or the third player wanted to get frisky, or that the turn drastically improved his hand either by making it (K-Q, 10-10) or by giving him a huge combo draw he was willing to shove with (Q-J perhaps). The latter was the best-case scenario for me, although I wasn't sure it was likely and he would still have a nice range of outs on the river.

I folded my hand face up. "Look at how much respect I give you," I said.

The rest of the table immediately started harrassing me. "How can you fold that?! You had him! He was on a draw at best!"

I waited until we were both leaving the casino for the night and then demanded he fess up. He had K-Q and turned a Broadway straight. I was surprised he didn't C-bet the royal-flush draw on the flop, but not surprised I folded the worse hand. As someone who thinks of individual poker hands as puzzles to be solved, making a tough but correct laydown always feels great, no matter whether you're folding to a stranger or a friend.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Battle of the blinds

Here's an absurd hand from a $1/3 NLHE session I played a few weeks back at The Meadows' new upstairs poker room. I was dealt Q-Q in the big blind. It folded all the way around to the small blind, and I sort of relaxed myself and started to lift my cards off the felt, preparing to offer him a chop, as that's what most players prefer to do when all the non-blind hands have been folded. (More on chopping and why I always do it, even with a hand this strong, right here, in both the post and the comments.)

The other player, an older man who had just recently sat down, was fiddling with his chips, and before I could offer the chop, the dealer said to him, "It's just you and big blind, sir." Undeterred, the man said, "I raise," and put out $15 worth of chips.

Well, that was unexpected.

So I was sitting there with pocket queens, which I didn't even think I'd be playing. But now it was clear I would be playing them, and I had them heads-up against another player. Obviously, I was going to reraise, although there was good reason to be somewhat concerned about the strength of this guy's hand. If he was a novice poker player and didn't even know you could chop, then a raise here wouldn't mean anything different than a raise from any position. But if the guy knew he could chop here and STILL decided to put in a raise, that could mean he considered his hand just too strong not to play. So maybe kings or aces were more likely than normal here.

Still, I had pocket queens, you know? I raised to $35. He flat-called fairly quickly, which would be odd for aces, as he didn't seem like the type to trap. And even if he was, wouldn't he have to think about that for a minute? I put him on K-K down to 10-10 or A-K.

The flop came K-7-3. The king sucked, but I did have the second-nut flush draw. I was debating internally how much I wanted to bet when he led out for $50. Bleh. I took a minute, but ultimately folded the hand. We both had $250+ back, and I was not going to lose all my money on this stupid blind-vs.-blind hand against a player who I didn't know at all. If he had A-K, he just smacked it, and if he had the A, my flush draw was no good. The whole thing just felt bad.

He never showed his cards, I ended up cashing out $80 to the good, and, according to my buddy who I was playing with, guys at the table were still talking about this hand after I had left the game.

"Were you here when those two idiots got in a raising war from the blinds?"

"Yeah, what was that about?!"


Monday, August 19, 2013

The Meadows is moving their poker room upstairs

The Meadows' spacious downstairs poker room that opened when Pennsylvania approved table games in 2010 will close next week to make way for a new upstairs room that will sit adjacent to the main casino floor. Speculation from the 2+2 Forums is that the new room will feature 15 tables, making it smaller than the 20+ table room The Meadows currently operates but rarely fills. The new room will apparently open one week from today, on Monday, Aug. 26.

I'm on poker hiatus right now, but, once I return, I'll miss the old room, which I always found to be more comfortable and relaxing than the one at Rivers. Still, there's no doubt the new location will be better. Poker players will find the poker room, but a downstairs room away from the casino floor will always struggle to attract casual players who may not even consider giving poker a try until they walk past the room. Wheeling Island figured this out, and now The Meadows has as well.

As always, I'll report back once I try out the new room, which shouldn't be too long from now.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Can't a guy get a spade?!

Here's a nausea-inducing hand from a $1/3 NLHE session at Rivers on Saturday night. The kind of hand that has you saying "if only" for a week afterward. There are three villains in this hand, who we will call Larry, Moe and Curly ... because why not?

Larry was young inexperienced player who would frequently announce his hand with the size of his preflop raise. If he raised it up $30 or more, he had a huge pocket pair. If he raised smaller, it was two big cards or suited connectors. Moe was a super-aggressive bully with a big stack. Curly was a passive call machine.

I was dealt A♠-9♠ from mid-position. Starting the hand, I had ~$120 sitting in front of me, which is about what Curly had. Larry had ~$200. Moe had a massive stack of ~$700, covering all of us easily. Larry raised it up to $15 sitting early, which meant he had a good but not great hand. Curly called because that's what Curly does. I called because I was fairly certain I could outplay both of these guys with little effort. Moe came along too, however, which did put one dangerous player in the hand.

Flop came Q♠-J-4♠. Nut flush draw for me, which was nice. Larry led out for $15, which could have meant he didn't have much faith in his hand or that he just didn't understand good bet-sizing. Curly called because that's what Curly does. I called. Then Moe -- who was constantly inflating pots with bets and raises whether he had a hand or not -- bumped it up to $40. Larry thought for a half minute and then called. Curly called because that's what Curly does.

And then it was back to me. There was $198 in the pot. I had ~$90 back. The math was straining my brain. I know that heads-up against a player with something like an overpair, I'm around 40 percent to catch my flush and win the hand. Here it wasn't so simple, as it easily could be assumed that at least one player would have redraws against me to a full house, even if I hit my flush. And it wouldn't be too big a shocker if one of the other players was also holding two spades, eliminating two of my outs. So I was very unsure of just how good a flush draw I had. There was also the matter of my stack. If I called the raise, I'd only have ~$65 left, which, considering the pot size, I guessed might make me pot-committed, even if no spade came on the turn. Again, the math was a little hazy for me considering all the crazy little variables. Four-player hands can be very tricky to figure when you're in them.

Ultimately, I took a leap of faith and shoved all my chips in. It was only $50 more to the other players, each of whom already had $55 invested into a rapidly expanding pot, so it wasn't a move intended to get anyone to fold. I just wanted the pot as big as I could get it at this point. Moe called with his massive stack still back. Larry called. Curly called for the rest of his chips because that's what Curly does. The pot had ballooned to nearly $500.

Well, here we go ...

Turn came the J, pairing the board, which took a lot of wind out of my sails. The two players with stacks back both checked, allowing me to hold on to a little bit of hope.

River came the 6, leaving me with ace high. Both players checked again. The only thing left to do was see who was getting all of my money.

Moe flipped up A-Q, no spades -- top pair, top kicker. Larry flipped up K-Q, no spades -- top pair, second kicker. And good ol' Curly flipped up K-9, no spades. That's right, Curly got all his money in with an overcard and a gutshot straight draw because -- say it with me -- that's what Curly does.

We can debate how well I played the hand (and I'm certainly open to suggestions in the comments). Maybe I should have just shoved the flop after Larry's initial $15 bet, when I had actual fold equity, to see how good Larry and Moe felt about their top pairs. Or maybe I should have just folded after Moe raised and waited for a better spot.

Although, really, this spot ended up being pretty great. No one had a spade! I had my full range of outs and no one had any kind of real redraw against me. The pot odds I was getting were off the charts. If everyone had flipped their cards up before the turn and river were dealt, I would have felt absolutely wonderful about the way things had gone down.

Unfortunately, I still needed a spade to make the hand, and despite having about a 40 percent chance of getting one, it did not come. That one hand was basically a $600 swing for me.

No-limit poker: Not for the faint of heart.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Only at Rivers ...

Seen during a $1/3 NLHE session after the Buccos game at Rivers on Tuesday ...

A brand new player -- a nondescript twenty-something dude -- sat down at the table. On the third hand dealt to him, he four-bet shoved the ~$170 he bought in for pre-flop. He got one caller. The shover wanted to turn his hand over, but the guy who called him didn't want to show yet, so cards remained face-down. The dealer ran the board, which was four rags and a king on the river. The caller said, "Ooh, I probably rivered you," and flipped over A-K. The new player rolled over Q-J offsuit (!), shrugged and said, "Okay, that's all I wanted to do. Good luck, guys." Then he got up and left the poker room.


By the way, as of Tuesday, Rivers no longer makes you post when you sit down at an existing game, which is nice.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wheeling Island is keeping table games

Here's the long version of the story, courtesy of the Wheeling Intelligencer.

Here's the short version: Wheeling Island threatened to drop table games if the West Virginia state government didn't reduce the annual fee to operate them and/or the table-game tax rate. The state House of Delegates called their bluff and basically said, "Okay, go ahead." Wheeling Island slunk away, muttering, "We'll do it next year. You'll see ..."

Anyway, for those of you who still play at Wheeling Island, carry on.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

So is Wheeling Island dropping table games or what?

Rumors have been floating around since last year that poker and, quite possibly, table games as a whole were on there way out at Wheeling Island. It was mostly just player-to-player chatter, with nothing being made official until the Wheeling Intelligencer newspaper reported last month that the casino was on pace to lose $1 million on table games in 2013.

That article quoted Wheeling Island president and general manager Jim Simms as saying, "The competition we are now facing from both Ohio and Pennsylvania -- combined with the fact that table games are a very labor intensive venture -- is making our situation very difficult."

West Virginia was the first of the three states to approve casino table gaming but has watched their player pool shrink dramatically as its neighboring states eventually legalized poker, blackjack, etc. The casino opened a 20-table poker room in late 2007, though it eventually dropped to nine tables before being shuttered and relaunched last year in a smaller location off the main casino floor.

Aside from dwindling players, another concern is the money the casino has to pay to the state for the mere privilege of operating table games, which consists of a $2.5 million annual fee as well as a 35 percent tax rate. (Ohio's tax rate on table games is 33 percent, while Pennsylvania's will soon drop to only 12 percent.)

According to this WV MetroNews article from a few weeks back, a recent Senate bill was proposed that would have shrunk the annual fee to $1.5 million, providing some relief, but the state legislature ultimately failed to pass it. Unless the state comes up with an alternative for reducing table-game fees, Simms is making it sound like Wheeling Island could decide to pull the plug when the casino's license expires in July.

“We’ve got to stop and do the math on this," he told the MetroNews. "Look at the trend of the revenue declines. Look at what kind of losses we would incur moving forward to see what the tolerance level would be. And then assess what the overall business model would look like with or without (table games)."

Now these could be merely threats to try to urge the state to give them a sweeter deal, but if the $1 million is losses does prove to be accurate, it's hard to imagine giving up on table games isn't at least being considered (especially poker, which is typically a low-earner for casinos). Wheeling Island was profitable as a racetrack and slots parlor before table games came along and would likely continue to be if they went back to that setup. But it would mean one less poker room for area players, even if it's one that many of us don't play in anymore.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Quads on the board, and then things get weird

Here's a crazy hand from yesterday's $1/3 NLHE session at Rivers. A tight, older player sitting early raised it up to $12 preflop. Two callers and front of me, and I called as well holding A-Q♠ from the cutoff.

Flop came 2-2♣-3♣, and it checked all the way around. Turn was the 2♠. Nothing but checks again. River came -- you guessed it -- the 2, putting quads on the board, which I believe is the first time I've ever seen that. It's definitely the first time I've ever written here about seeing it.

Anyway, the guy who originally raised now decided to bet $15. I guessed he had an ace too, so he figured why not get some money in the pot? Then the next guy in the hand, another tight, older guy, called the $15. Now that was a little weird. If he doesn't have an ace, it's a terrible call, and if he does, why not raise? But, okay, whatever. It was a pretty unique hand, and I wouldn't be surprised if some casual players didn't even know where they stood here. Plus, there are players out there who just won't raise if they assume it's going to be a chop, even if there's absolutely no risk in doing so.

Third player in the hand is a young guy who I had pegged as one of the best players at the table, and he raised it up to $70.

Okay, so there's an ace. Wait a minute ... am I certain about that? A bare ace is the nuts here, right?! Shit, I better run through this in my head again ...

And that's what I did. I mean, quads on the board is really rare. And considering the frisky action in front of me, I became a bit worried that I was going to be the dumb one and somehow misread the potential hands here. So, okay, just to be sure ...

A three is no good. Can't play a full house because everyone's got to play the quads. Same goes with a pocket pair. And there's no fifth two in the deck, so ...

Yep, I had the nuts. So I shoved all-in because why not? Again, it may seem silly, as it's preposterous to think anyone would be calling without an ace, but you always want to give other people the chance to misread the situation. The dealer announced my all-in but asked me to leave my chips back for the moment.

First older guy called. There's the third ace. Second older guy calls. Jesus! Do we all have an ace?! I started to roll my cards over. "Well, I've got one," I said.

"Hold up," the dealer said, sticking his arm up. "There's still action behind you."

Damn, he was right. I forgot the young player still had chips back, and it was now on him as I had shoved all-in over top of him. He shook his head in disgust, which I initially took to mean he was angry that I started to show my hand out of turn. Although that didn't make much sense since he had to have an ace and of course was calling. Why would he care that I flashed early?

But then the true source of his disgust became apparent when he mucked his cards and leaned back in his chair, clearly annoyed with himself. I then fully showed my ace, as did the other two players in the hand.

"Yep, I had pocket sevens," the young guy said. "Didn't even realize the river was another two."

See what I mean about giving other people a chance to screw things up?

Whether the guy honestly misread the river or momentarily failed to realize you can't play six cards in poker, I'm not sure. Most times, I'd assume the player was just trying to make himself look less stupid, but up to this point, this dude seemed to be a legitimately good player. So maybe he indeed didn't realize quads were on the board.

Regardless, the hand turned into a little bit of a money-maker for the rest of us, as we got to split the kid's $82 three ways. Actually, it's possible my speaking up out of turn tipped him off and prevented him from putting the rest of his money into the pot, though I think he had it sussed out before it got back to him. (And if he didn't, it ended up not mattering, as I tabled him shortly thereafter anyway. Which was even better since I didn't have to split the rest of his money with two other guys.)

I ended up cashing out $156 to the good on the session. After two pretty piss-poor years of poker, I've averaging $25+ profit an hour so far in 2013. That number may be unsustainable at $1/3, especially if I start playing more often, but it's nice to be winning consistently again.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hey, the Rivers poker room has its own restrooms now!

Not exactly up-to-the-minute news, I know. But until today, I hadn't played there since last July. The room has undergone some minor renovations since then. It's now separated from the main casino floor by glass windows, giving the area a more closed-in feel. The sign-in desk has moved from the front-left side of the room to the front-right. And, in a move that must have been greatly celebrated by all who complained about the distance of the nearest urinals when Rivers opened, restrooms are now available on the room's back-right side.

I had a nice little $1/3 NLHE session today. Won $190 in three hours, mostly thanks to one hand. Limped in from early with A-4. No raisers behind. Flop: K-J-9. I checked. Unfortunately, so did the five players sitting behind me with cards. Turn: 7♣. I bet $12. A friend of mine sitting on my immediate left raised to $35. Two folds, and then an older guy raised it up again to $100. I shoved for ~$180. My friend folded. Older guy called.

Well, that escalated quickly. Dealer, please don't pair the board, and, buddy, if you've got Q-10, then god bless ya.

River came the 2. I showed, he mucked and that was that. One big hand made the session. I should be hitting Rivers more often again now that baseball season is about to start.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Queens no good, and don't even ask about the aces

Had my first losing session of 2013 a little over a week ago. Played my current brand of tight, safe poker but was mostly done in when I ran into some bad luck with pocket queens two different times.

Playing $1/3 NLHE, I first found ladies in the hole from the small blind and raised it up to $20 after three players had limped. Two ended up calling. The flop came 9-8-3♠. I led out for $45, and, after the first player folded, the second guy shoved all-in, ~$90 on top. Not knowing the player at all, I called fairly quickly, thinking he could be doing this with a lot of flush and straight draws along with maybe pocket 10s or pocket jacks (though less likely those last two since he limped preflop). Of course, sets were in play, but (a) I hate folding because the guy "might have a set" and (b) many live low-limit players like to slowplay sets. After I called, he rolled over 8-9 for top two pair, which held. Didn't catch whether they were suited or not. God, I hope so.

A little later, I was again dealt pocket queens sitting early. I opened to $15, and a short-stack sitting on the other side of the table pushed his ~$60 total into the pot. Not really enough money to get me off of it, so I put in the chips and desperately hoped not to see kings or aces. Of course, he had the latter and took down the pot.

I also had aces once during this session, while sitting in the small blind, and sat there in a state of unbelieving awe as the entire table folded around to me -- the first and only time not a single person decided to limp the whole night.

"Chop?" the big blind asked, seeing if I was up for the standard friendly cash-game procedure of the two blinds just pulling their chips back if everyone out in front folds.

"Yeah, sure," I said, but you can be damn sure I flipped my cards face up.

That's the first time that's ever happened to me, by the way. I was once dealt a royal flush in a home game playing a variant where you're given five hole cards. And in 2008 I got a piece of a bad-beat jackpot in Wheeling. But until now I'd never been dealt pocket aces in a blind only to have the entire table fold around. So it's a milestone, I guess, but kind of a shitty one.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Action Cards: Maverick

Action Cards is a recurring column here at Three Rivers Poker where I pick a film that features poker in some capacity and then specifically review the poker scenes contained therein. I occasionally tackle an honest-to-god poker movie but find it's more fun (for me and you) to discuss movies that only tangentially feature the game. Up today, one of the game's most legendary fictional players ...

THE MOVIE: Maverick (1994) 

THE PLOT: This movie version of the late 50s/early 60s TV series finds poker whiz Bret Maverick (Mel Gibson) suffering one setback after another as he romps around the Old West trying to round up the $25,000 he needs to enter the All Rivers Draw Poker Championship. Constantly getting in his way are cute-as-a-button con artist Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster); strict lawman Zane Cooper (TV's original Maverick, James Garner); and evil Spaniard in an awful hat Angel (Alfred Molina).

HOW MUCH POKER IS INVOLVED?: A fair amount. Most of the movie concerns Maverick trying to secure the final $3,000 he needs for his entry fee, but we do see Maverick, Annabelle and Angel face off in a saloon game early on. Then the big tournament takes up a healthy bit of screen time near the film's end.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Wheeling players are just as crotchety as I remember

Until yesterday, I hadn't played poker at Wheeling Island since June 2010. The following month, table games launched at Rivers and The Meadows, and as a Pittsburgh resident, I finally had poker in my own backyard. Still, I didn't think it would take me this long to get back to Wheeling Island. I was born in West Virginia's northern panhandle and still have family and friends, many of whom play poker, in that area. At some point, the stars should have aligned for a trip to that casino.

Two and a half years passed and it never happened, though. Until Sunday, that is, when I had to make a rare trip to Wheeling for an unrelated matter and talked my father into joining me for a short session at Wheeling Island. I was curious to see it, as I hadn't played there since before they shuttered their old downstairs poker room (which originally featured 20 tables) and opened a smaller, nine-table room on the casino floor early last year.

The new room is actually nicer than I thought it would be. And to be fair, it's not a "room," but a corner section of the casino floor that's been partially walled off on one side to make it feel like its own separate entity. The place is surrounded by televisions, half of which were devoted to sports broadcasts while the other half aired simulcast racing while I was there. There are two automated betting machines in the room for anyone who wants to bet on the races and a leather couch near the front for waiting players or visitors. The room is small but plenty big enough to meet the needs of Wheeling Island, which lost a huge chunk of their players when the Pittsburgh poker rooms opened for business.

My father and I got there about 12:30 p.m. There was only one $2/4 limit table going, but we brought the wait list up to seven for a $1/2 NLHE table, which was soon launched. By the time we left two hours later, two additionally no-limit tables were running.

The table was extremely lax. I'm pretty sure three players were there solely to try and hit the bad beat jackpot, which hasn't gone off in a year and was up to nearly $150,000. They mostly folded and were easy to play against when they were in a hand. Still I found myself down early thanks to being extremely card dead. I also got a little aggressive with A-8 when a flop came 8-7-3 and I ended up paying off a guy who had called my flop bet with K-Q and hit a king on the turn.

Then, with my stack down to $85 from it's original $200, this happened: One limper in front of me at a limp-heavy table, and I threw my two bucks in from mid-position with 5-7. The button came along too, and the big blind checked. Four to the flop which came 4♣-6-8♠. Well, hello nuts.

Big blind checked, and the woman sitting second bet $7. I smooth-called, figuring I'd string her along a bit and maybe pick up some more close-to-dead money. Plus, if somebody else smacked this flop, I assumed I'd hear about it. Sure enough, the older gentleman on the button raised to $17. The guy in the big blind called. The woman folded. The raise was light, but the guy wasn't a big bettor, so I figured it could still represent a big hand -- two pair or a set. Well, thanks to my slow-play, I had a decent little pot built and wanted to make anyone drawing against me pay from this point out. So I shoved all-in for my last $76. The original raiser, who had me covered, mumbled disgustedly under his breath, like he knew bad things were about to happen, but he almost immediately announced call. The big blind folded.

"You flop a straight?" he asked.

"I did," I said, and rolled over my cards.

He flipped over his set of fours and dropped back in his chair, cursing at the ceiling. Neither the turn nor the river paired the board, and my straight held. The man offered no acknowledgement my way. No "good hand" or knock on the table. He only muttered, "How is that even possible?" to the guy next to him and then shot me a glare. I just pulled my pot in -- which put me back at about even -- and moved on to the next hand.

Before long, Mr. Grumpy had lost his stack completely (bitching about his bad luck the whole time) and had rebought for $150. Eventually, we dueled again. Another limped pot, and I was holding A-7 with position on everyone. The flop: 8-7-4. He and the other players in the hand checked, and I bet $7. He was the only caller. Turn came a blank. Check, check. The river was the 6. Great card for me, though it did mean I'd lose to a straight flush if he held the 5. He led out for $10, and I decided now was not the time to fear the one card that could beat me. I needed to get paid a little on this hand. I raised it up to $25.

"Goddamn unbelievable," he said and threw in the extra $15. "You got there, huh?"

He grabbed his cards and violently threw them face up: K-3. Mr. Grumpy had flopped a flush and slow-played it all the way to his demise. When I turned over my hand, he unloaded again, yelling about how all I did was catch cards on him all afternoon long.

"Should have raised all-in on the flop," I told him. "I would have folded." He shot me another glare and went back to his mutterings.

Ahh, Wheeling Island. You haven't changed a bit.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

No poker room planned for Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin

Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin now has a website and a Feb. 7 public hearing for its request to install table games, but what it won't have is poker. The Trib is reporting that no poker room is planned for the casino, which is scheduled to open later this year and will primarily serve guests of the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.