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High On Poker

Where to start? Where to start?

First of all, I discovered a handful of comments awaiting moderation. Sorry, folks, if you left a comment and it did not post. Hell, even one of my own comments were awaiting confirmation.

I played in a home game. Ham Hands Pauly and Abby from Wall Street Poker recently hosted the Parents’ Home Game, as I like to think of it. It was at their home, scheduled to start at 7:30pm, only a few short blocks from my home. I arrived early (naturally) and was the only one there aside from the two hosts. As we chatted idly, I mentioned that their proposed game was a genius idea: one tournament only, with a higher than usual buy-in, so that players with kids can budget their time wisely. Pauly and Abby have two great kids under 6 years old (under 5?) and they are both very intelligent people, so I assumed they had come up with the plan. With just one tournament, there is no pressure to stay for the second game and with the slightly higher buy-in, winning is worthwhile, even if you will be exhausted from a bio-alarm-clock that thinks 6am is a fine time to get up on a weekend. When I complimented them, Abby looked at me strangely and then shared, “Actually, this was your idea. You mentioned having just one tournament at the last game.” Hmm… I thought for a moment before realizing that she was right. So, it turns out my two friends are not geniuses…but I am. But good on them for listening. That’s something.

I wish I could tell you about my big win. Nope. I lost two buy-ins. The first time, my AA was all-in against Pauly’s 88 preflop. He hit his 8 and I was out. (Your $1 for the bad beat story is in the mail). The second time, my low pair was all-in against Pauly’s flush draw. I was trying to push him out of the hand, but alas, my reputation precedes me and he made the call and took a chance to knock me out. Pauly ended up not even cashing, so all that donking by me amounted to nothing.

What I did win, however, was an evening of poker with friends who are willing to take your money ruthlessly and then discuss openly how they ruthlessly took your money once the hand is over. Its a smart crowd, so hearing insight from the other players is always invaluable. I play a somewhat risky game, particularly in tournaments, so I shrugged off my losses and thanked them for a fun evening. I was home in time to be merely exhausted the next day, instead of utterly exhausted. I look forward to their next game, which should be monthly.

More recently, I had an opportunity to go to a casino in PA for poker, but…passed. I was in PA for work. It was very intense, but I finished by 5pm. The drive home was 3 hours, and I contemplated staying in PA overnight. I decided against it. Despite my exhaustion from having kids and the temptation of a bed that did not feature any feet to kick me in the ribs or a bio-alarm-clock perpetually set at Please-Jesus-It’s-Too-Early-Go-Back-to-Sleep(!) o’clock, I missed my family. I considered stopping for a few hours, but it would not be enough to really enjoy myself.

A younger me would have never passed up the opportunity to play, but kids and the lack of poker has definitely factored in to my diminished desire. I still want to play, but I realize the conditions have to be right, or I’m going to play terribly due to distractions, exhaustion and ring rust (which I now acknowledge to be a real, but surmountable, obstacle in poker).

Finally, I faced an interesting temptation recently. A certain poker site began advertising on Facebook. I was tempted to play, but I’m still very hesitant after the UIGEA fallout from 2011. A friend has tried it out at very low stakes, but has not withdrawn money. I’m not just interested in playing poker; I’m interested in winning money by playing poker. If I’m not confident I can withdraw, what’s the point of playing? Until I’m ready to take that added risk, I will stick with live casino action. Meanwhile, people over in the UK can comfortably play games like the Thunderstruck 2 slot at the popular online casino InstaCasino, while I twiddle my thumbs.

Until next time, make mine poker!

Oldie By Goody

March 6th, 2017

This weekend, I returned to the Sands with three of my usual degenerates, Dave Roose, Bro-in-Law Marc, and Robbie Hole, to do that poker thing I used to do so frequently. The day pass from the wife was easy to get; she’s a reasonable one. I just tend not to ask.

As per usual, the ostensible reason for the trip ended up falling by the way side. I decided around two months in advance that I wanted to play at the Sands on Saturday for a special tournament that they were throwing, a $400 total buy-in, black chip bounty, $30,000-guarantee. The tournament started at 11 am, so the plan was to arrive nice and early, by 10 am, and settle in for a long day of poker. As the day approached, though, reality set in. The tournament itself would attract at least 100 entrants and likely quite a bit more. Given the start time, I figured the tournament could end in the wee hours of Sunday morning. To a young stud like me…five years ago…that would be doable. To the exhausted father of two I am today, that was untenable. Not only would that mean driving home when I would be completely exhausted (with two bio alarm clocks, aka kids, demanding that I awake at the crack of dawn), but it would also mean that I likely play sub-par late due to exhaustion and anxiety about going home so late, AND my friends would have to wait around. Perhaps even worse, I could bust early and have to wait for my friends!

Roose had picked me up at 8am and we met Marc 15 minutes later before heading out to PA. On the drive, I called to confirm that the tournament allowed re-entries until 1pm before deciding that it was definitely going to be a day of cash games.

By the time the three of us arrived, Robbie Hole had already found himself a black jack table and was embracing the grind. The three of us headed to put our names on the 1/2 list, which was already 10 names deep. We then met up with Rob. I left him shortly after seeing him lose on a double down and then immediately lose to the dealer’s blackjack. I don’t believe in jinxes, but I sure as shit was not going to tempt fate.

Eventually, Marc and I were called for the same 1/2 table. I took the 9 seat (the tables are now 9-handed) and he took the 5 seat. To his immediate left was an older gentleman, followed by the man’s 30-something son Moe, and an Asian guy on my immediate right named Che. All three played fairly well, with the Asian gentleman particularly skilled. The 1 seat was similarly skilled. The 2 seat and 3 seat rotated a bit. The 4 seat was a black gentleman, likely in his 30s, wearing an extremely oversized black leather jacket and a black ball cap that read “KING” pulled low, practically over his eyes. He looked like a thug, like something out of The Wire.

I admit, at first, my play was sub-par. I lost around $150 or so playing passively, calling a bit too much only to fold shortly thereafter. I lost an early hand with pocket 10s, and then had to let go KK against an Ace-high flop with lots of action. If I were watching me, I would identify myself as a mark. Fortunately, King, the would-be thug in the four-seat, seemed to have had the same read. I noticed in particular that he was playing back at me, as well as he should have, given how I was playing.

When I arrived at the table, King had a large stack, probably north of $800. He had lost some and I had reloaded $100, so when the hand in question began, I had probably around $250 or so. I was dealt AKs.

I had noticed that the table was playing somewhat aggressively, so I opted for what seemed to be a common bet, $20. I think King was the only one who called. The flop had two spades, giving me a flush draw. The cards themselves were all relatively low (8 or lower). I bet $40 and King called. The turn was a blank. Here, I think I cannot exactly recall the action. I may have bet $60 or so, or, quite frankly, I may’ve checked. All I know is that if I bet, he called, because we both saw the river – a 9 of spades – giving me the nut flush.

I thought for a moment and then pushed my entire stack into the middle. I wanted a call – desperately – so as he took his time, I thought about how I could get him to call given the rivered flush card. If he had the flush, he probably would have called by now. If he did not have the flush, would he fear that I had it? I knew from experience that when a player is taking a long time and you think he is going to fold, its best to do something – anything – to induce the call. So, I put on my acting hat and decided to look scared as shit.

I’ve seen scared players before, usually young kids playing with money that actually matters to them. I did my best to impersonate them, going into a weak version of tell lockdown. In case you have not heard me mention this before, some people who are bluffing are so scared of giving off tells that will induce a call that they completely hide, going into tell lockdown. Usually, this very move is the tell. It’s definitely gotten me paid before. So, I opted to imitate tell lockdown, but do so in a manner that clearly showed fear. I pressed my chin against my chest so that my hat brim covered my eyes. I took scared sips of my drink, making sure that my hand was NOT shaking (shaking hands usually means a player is on an adrenaline rush from having a strong hand). I tilted my head every once in a while to glance at his hands, moreso so that he was thinking that I was looking at his hands less than an actual desire to see what he was doing.

He eventually called and showed A9, for rivered top pair. He had been calling me the whole way with air, presumably to try to take it away from me. After all, I was playing weakly. Instead, I had caught my fish.

The two players to my immediate right, Che and Moe quietly mentioned that they thought I was bluffing. “You looked so scared,” Che added. In my head, I said, “Well, that move is burned for the day.” The next thought was, “Unless I reverse it and do the scared act the next time I’m actually bluffing.” Layers, folks. The game has layers.

I continued to press ahead until I found myself in a hand with Marc. I had JJ preflop and raised, receiving two callers, Marc and some other guy. The flop came out AcJc7c, and Marc led out with a bet. I had some concerns about a flopped flush, but I had the redraw to a full house and there was a possibility someone was playing a strong Ace or had a strong club in their hand for a flush draw. I flat called, hoping to keep the other player in the pot. He called as well.

The turn was another Ace, giving me a full house. Marc led out again, for a larger sum. Once again, I wanted the other guy in the pot, so I just flat called. The other guy, however, decided to fold.

The river was a 2c. Marc led out for $100. He had probably another $120 behind. I considered pushing to get the rest of his chips, but ultimately opted to flat call. For some reason, I had feared a better full house, like A7 or AJ. He had bet enough to make the pot sizeable. There was no need to gild the lilly. I called. He showed a flopped flush and I took down the pot.

At this point, I was up a decent sum, but the story continues.

In the next major hand (but not the actual next hand), I had AA. An unexceptional player raised pre-flop to $12. By the time it got to me, there were a couple of callers, so I reraised to $37 ($25 on top) and got two callers, including the initial raiser. The flop was 237 rainbow, which was about as ideal as I could have hoped. I was first to act, so I bet $100. I had to assume I had the best hand. 22, 33, and even 77 seemed unlikely to call a $25 re-raise pre-flop, since preflop re-raises were not common at this table and the action had considerably died down. A bet of $100 may look like I was trying to buy the pot, or so I hoped. The original raiser was next to act and thought for a bit. As he labored over his decision, I remember thinking, “guys who take a long time and then push are usually just acting.” Sure enough, he did push. The other player in the hand folded. I asked for a count of the all-in. It was $208. I considered my opponent’s possible holdings once again and confidently removed 22 and 33 given his play thus far. I also could not envision 77, although there was a slight possibility. I called. He showed QQ immediately, so as a courtesy, I showed my AA. The turn was a 6. The river was a Queen. SHIT!

Inside, I was a bubbling cauldron of rage. On the outside, I was very calm about it. My neighbors, Moe and Che, commented about how well I took the beat. “It happens. If you want to know everything, go play chess.” I went from up to down. Ugh.

Hole had played in the tournament, but busted out in the third level when his full house lost to a straight flush. By the time I lost that big pot, it was 12:45 or so. Roose texted about lunch at the Carnegie Deli inside the casino. We agreed to go at 1pm. Marc, ultimately, decided to keep playing poker, hoping to grind back his losses.

Lunch was great, but ultimately VERY heavy. I’m starting to realize that the food that I enjoy is only enjoyable on the way down. It was nothing crazy. A grilled cheese with bacon and an order of fries for the three of us to share. Grilled cheese has always been the official casino food of High on Poker, if only for its comfort and simplicity. There’s was great, a double-decker (nothing is small at Carnegie). But after finishing, I felt a coating of grease on my insides and outsides.

I returned to the table around 2pm and got back to the grind. I won back all of my money, and even worked my way up to a small profit before the final major hand of the day for me.

I had TT in the BB. It was practically a family pot of limpers by the time it got to me, so I raised to $22. Everyone folded except for Moe.

The flop was King high with two low cards. I bet $40 and Moe called. The turn was a blank. I checked and he checked. The river was a 6. He bet $100. I thought for a moment and decided he did not have the King. I called and was correct. He did not have the King. He had 66. His dad, or at least the guy who I pegged as his dad based on their appearance and the fact that they both spoke the same foreign language, said, “If you bet that turn, he probably folds.” By this time, our side of the table was friendly and chatting, so I did not mind discussing the hand. “True, but he was drawing to two outs. Most of the time, that check is harmless.” I didn’t add, “and I get paid off on the river by looking weak on the turn.” But I thought it, and I mostly think I’m right. Then again, the pot was already over $100 on the turn, so $100 in the hand is worth more than paying off an additional $100 on the river.

I should mention that some time before this hand, Marc sent out a group text asking us all if we wanted to go in on a black jack syndicate, where we pool our money, play at the same table, and chop the results. I decided to pass, happy to play poker. Roose joined him. Rob was playing table games too, but I am not sure if he was part of their team, so to speak.

The syndicate did not work out this time, though. Around 3:45, the group was texting about an exit strategy. In our younger days, we could play poker for days. Not so much anymore. I decided to go with the flow and pack up. I was down around $60, but in the grand scheme of things, that was okay. My cohorts were down considerably more, but I do not know the actual figures.

On the way back to NY, we stopped at Wegman’s, a supermarket chain that does not exist in NY. We loaded up on their subs and I grabbed four of their cookies, the best cookies available in my estimation. The drive home was bearable, but just barely. On the way to the Sands, with Dave driving, Marc and I played Chinese poker the entire way. I lost $5. On the way back, we played some more, and I lost another $15. Que sera.

We dropped off Marc and then headed to my place. Roose and I opted to see Logan – making the most of the day pass we received from our respective families. The movie was amazing.

I returned home to find wifey Kim passed out on the couch, my son passed out in my bed, and my daughter passed out in my son’s room. All was well with the world, and I was only $60 lighter than when the day started.

I cannot wait to plan my next poker trip. But I imagine its another long time coming.

Until next time, make mine poker!

Even Two Won’t Stop Me

November 30th, 2016

II’ve had a helluva year, people. We had a relatively sudden death in my family in the summer (no need to get into it in detail here), and the birth of my second child in October. The result, as you can imagine, is that my already meager poker play remains just that…meager. Fortunately, there is poker on the horizon.

Once again, I will be returning to Atlantic City for AC for X-Mas. This is probably the sixteenth year, but it will be different than years past. Initially, it was just me and wifey Kim (then girlfriend Kim). Eventually, Dave Roose and Robbie Hole joined. Then, my parents and Roose’s parents got in on the action. Roose’s wife and Hole’s girlfriend joined the festivities and my brother(s) and other friends would randomly join for a year here and there. But one constant was me and wifey Kim. Not this year though.

While I will be drinking free drinks and playing poker at a table of mostly non-Christians, wifey Kim will be home with a toddler and newborn. What a woman! For the first time in a while, I will be on an AC trip without the wife, so poker will be practically non-stop. Sure, we’ll be doing a X-mas eve dinner (our usual joint, Rafici’s, reopened after being closed for several years) and sure, this year, I’ll only be in AC for one night, but, well, FREEDOM! Of course, I will use this freedom to completely destroy myself with no sleep (already used to that from having two kids), copious booze (not so used to that anymore), plenty of poker (I am always ready for poker) and my buds.

Now, whether this tradition persists, particularly in light of the life events mentioned in that first paragraph, is yet to be seen. AC continues to commit slow suicide with high room rates (fortunately, Roose got a free room, so I’ll be staying with him). They were able to stop the expansion of NJ poker to the Meadowlands, which is way closer to NYC, but PA casinos are still taking on a lot of the action that was previously exclusive to AC. If NJ has a bright spot, it may be its online poker, which remains the only place to play online poker legally in the US, with the exception of Delaware and Nevada. If only I had a cable long enough to reach NJ from my NY home, so that I can spend some time in an online casino New Jersey offers. Hell, I may even get some online poker while in AC for X-mas. It seems sacrilegious, when live poker is just downstairs, but who knows.

Until next time, make mine poker!

The Time Poker Earned Me Cookies

September 19th, 2016

Cookies Wrapped

Over the last few months, I’ve been spending random weekend days at my mother’s house, helping her clean up the place, which has become inundated with collections, stored items, and nostalgia over the years. My mother loves reading and has amassed probably 10,000 books. She also tutors and teaches teenagers who cannot go to school for various reasons, so in addition to her leisure books, she has enough educational books to fill a small library. She also has all of my and my two brothers’ toys from when we were kids, keepsakes from when we were in college, and random other items, like furniture that we had stored indefinitely. Seeing as how I love my mother, I made a commitment to clean the place up. It’s been going slowly, but it has been very rewarding. I’m constantly finding things that I did not even remember existed.

This weekend, I came across my old poker chips. It’s a beautiful set, complete with a metal case, dealer button and all the usual accoutrements. I remember purchasing the set, shortly before receiving a set of free chips from a company promoting a poker video game sponsored by Daniel Negreanu. This led me down a path of reminiscing about online poker and how things were very different ten years ago when I started my blog.

Perhaps the weirdest thing that came from online poker were all the freebies. Some came in the form of promotion points issued by the sites that could be exchanged for real goods. The oddest of these was when I got a cookie tray for playing at an online poker site. I love cookies, but I really love the oddity of receiving a gift package of cookies because of raked hands (above).

The best thing I ever got was a 50″ TV. To be fair, I did not get the 50″ TV solely from poker, but thanks to a third-party site, I did earn enough gift cards to offset the cost incredibly. The site offered to give you gift cards in exchange for opening an account at a poker site and playing enough raked hands. It was essentially a convoluted rakeback scheme, but I was not familiar with rakeback and the requirements were uber low, so I just saw it as free gifts. You could sign up for a random site like ladbrokes or betvictor, and a few days later hit enough rakeback for a $50 giftcard to BestBuy or the like. In the case of the TV, there must have been some glitch in the system, because instead of sending me one $50 gift card, I received 5 for a total value of $250. Add that to the other $200 in gift cards I had amassed from other promotions, and my TV was suddenly a lot cheaper (not to mention the connection I had at BestBuy who was able to get me the TV at cost). For what its worth, I still have that TV all these years later. Other times, I’d get to try out free poker related websites, like betbind, which incidentally has its own free services available to the general public.

Sure, it was just a collection of (sometimes edible) things, but it was fun and exciting at the time. Now, if I play online poker, its extremely rare, since I have to be in NJ. Even worse, it feels completely unreal, since I have not even tried to withdraw the money. They feel more like credits in a video game than a chance to make money.

Until next time, make mine poker!

Sands in my Eye

August 29th, 2016

I made my return to Sands last weekend. Due to reasons I rather not discuss right now, I may have been gifted a car. I don’t necessarily want it. I live in a place where I can walk to a variety of stores and restaurants, including three supermarkets within a 2 block radius and probably 20 restaurants within a 10 block radius, and I take public transportation to work, so a car was never a necessity. But having a free car, I decided to see what this newfound freedom would feel like, which meant I needed to take a poker day trip. After all, being a resident of New York, I do not have the convenience of nearby or online gaming, like what is offered by Betfair Casino NJ, so at least a car can help me access my favorite pass time.

I got up early, showered until I was actually awake-awake, threw on the clothes I laid out the night before, and headed over to get a bagel for me and Roose. Roose joined me and we hopped in my car, heading to Brooklyn to pick up bro-in-law Marc. Once we were all together, we took the relatively easy drive to the Sands. I didn’t even get pulled over this time.

On the drive, Roose mentioned his desire to play at the same table, so when we arrived, we put in our request. There were three seats open on two tables, but the floor added us to a move list for a new table.

Roose and Marc headed to one table and I headed to another. As I looked around the table, I noticed it looked like a Klan rally. All old, angry-looking white males. I played a few hands, switched seats to get position on one particularly wily octogenarian and immediately was called for a new table.

When I arrived at the table, the 2 seat, 3 seat and 9 seat were open, likely because of the crappy design of the Sands tables, which have huge legs that block the leg room of those seats. I took seat 2. Roose took seat 3. And we were off to the races.

I have to pat myself on the back, because I played excellently all day. I amassed a $350 profit, although I do not remember exactly how. I do, however, remember how I gave most of my profit back.

I had dwindled a little bit when I was dealt TT in the BB. There were around four or five limpers when the action got around to me, so I raised to $12. I got two callers.

The flop was T83, with two clubs. I decided to bet the flop. I do not recall the sum, but it was probably in the $45 range. I got two callers. The turn was an offsuit nine. I looked at the two players’ stacks. One guy had about $160; the other had maybe $130. I decided to just push all-in. I figured someone was flush drawing.

The player with the larger stack, a frumpy, mustachioed man of probably 60 years, called. The other player folded. His stack was counted, I matched his stack, and then I flipped over my cards, knowing that regardless of the outcome, I’d have to show first anyway. He did nothing, so I stood up and thought to myself, “No club. No club. No club.” The river was a 6 of hearts, and I was ecstatic…until he flipped his cards. He had been playing 47, and it wasn’t even suited clubs! Whey he chose to call the flop AND the turn was beyond me. I was dumbfounded.

The player himself looked sheepish and almost apologetic. After the hands were mucked, a player next to him said, “Well, he did have the flush draw,” but both me and my opponent confirmed that my opponent was calling with nothing but an inside straight draw. I did my best to look calm and collected. I wasn’t on tilt. I accepted the fact that even if I were a 90% favorite, he’d still win 10% of the time (no, I did not do the math; its the concept that matters and not the actual figures).

I continued to play and amassed another $300 profit. That one dwindled too, though, and then I gave up my remaining profit by calling a pre-flop $100+ push with AKs. My opponent had AA and had open pushed. At the time, I figured he probably had a vulnerable pocket pair (i.e., 22-QQ) and I was willing to toss a coin, since I had profit to cover the all-in. In hindsight, I should have been more cautious, but I knew what I was doing when I did it.

At the end of the session, I held a $21 profit. Roose had been down a small amount, but won his last pot to leave up $50. Marc had earned $40 at his table. We were all winners, but the profits were less than impressive.

On my way to the cage to cash out, I put my $21 profit on black, hitting it for $42 total profit for the day. Marc let some of his money ride and left up $90.

The drive back was pleasant. Halfway there, Roose wanted to eat. We began to exit the road to hit a nearby Cracker Barrel when he came up with the idea to find a Wegman’s, a NE supermarket chain that has a section with prepared foods, subs, etc. I love Wegman’s from my college years in Buffalo, so I was glad to follow his lead. We found one 25 minutes away, scarfed down some food, and finished our trip home.

If there was a lesson for the trip, it may be to avoid gambling. But I think the real lesson is to accept the bad beats. Its going to happen, so if you cannot handle it, quit playing poker and go play chess, where you have complete information. Lesson or no lesson, though, it was great to play. Hell, it may even be worth keeping the car so I can travel to the casinos.

Until next time, make mine poker!

My Annual Online Poker Week

August 15th, 2016

For the last five years, wifey Kim and I have traveled to Cape May, New Jersey with our friends Mori and Genny for a summer vacation. In the first year, we merely stopped there on our way down the East Coast. The next year, we stayed for a week. After that, we stayed in a 3-bedroom, 2-bath apartment of sorts in a B&B-looking house with Mori, Genny, their daughter and our son. Since the four adults get along so well and the kids are the same age, its an ideal scenario.

This year, I traveled with an iPad and iPhone, but no laptop. My laptop crapped out on me months ago and I never replaced it, since I do not use one with any frequency. On day 2 of the trip, I realized I was in goddamn New Jersey, one of three states that offer regulated online poker. I had an account set up years ago at a couple of sites, and when I logged into one using my iPad, I found $160 waiting from me from last year.

From then on, I played a little bit, almost every night. Not too much, since we were with other people and I wanted to be sociable, but enough that I was probably less sociable than I should have been. Fortunately, my friends and wife understand me and there were no issues with my play.

The highlight came on day 3 when I placed 2nd out of 49 players in a tournament for $200 or so. The rest of the time, I mostly played SNGs and some very ineffective ring games. For the week, I was up only $40 or so, but it was better than being down that amount.

I have a couple of observations about online poker in NJ, most of which is not pretty. I was surprised at how hard it was to find a game. This is obviously due to the limited player base in NJ, but disappointing nonetheless. A 6-person SNG at normal stakes can take a long time to get started, so it was near impossible to plan my sessions, because I could be waiting 30 minutes or more before an SNG starts. I even had trouble finding a cash game once. I imagine if the site could take on a larger player base, like TonyBet Poker, this problem would quickly evaporate.

The added problem is that when poker is not available due to a smaller player base, those with the gambling bug may be tempted to click on the little link to the online casino, where you can lose your money much faster with significantly reduced skill elements. So, the lower player base may be funneling people to a more profitable part of the online gaming market, to the casino’s benefit and player’s detriment. It’s not even like they offer sports betting, like TonyBet does, so you are stuck with electronic slots and table games that can go very fast.

Finally, while I was glad to be able to log on and play on my iPad and iPhone, the software is far from ideal. Once you are in a game, it is good enough, but I could not get a grasp on whether it was possible or feasible to play multiple tables, I could not figure out how to unregister once you register from a tournament and close out the tournament’s lobby, and several times, I could not even log in. I had to literally uninstall and reinstall the app several times on both devices when it would randomly start working. I haven’t had a chance to download TonyBet poker software or the TonyBet Poker mobile app, but I have to imagine it is better than what I experienced.

The final thing that playing for a week made me realize is that online poker is a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, I like the freedom to play whenever and wherever I want. On the other hand, I forgot how the ups and downs of online poker can really affect the mental state of the player. Fortunately, I was able to take a step back and not let it affect me too much, but I did find myself thinking about it a bit too much (as in, “I hope the connectivity issues are resolved by tonight) and thinking about it a bit too much after (as in, lying in bed thinking, “I probably should’ve folded there”). But that’s all on me; it ain’t poker’s fault.

Until next time, make mine poker!

Resistance Is Futile

May 25th, 2016

A lot is going on in the High Household, but its always important to take care of one’s vices, so as to be sharp when the need for sharpness arises. With this in mind, more than a month ago, I eyed a possible weekend for a guy’s trip to Atlantic City. The trip finally came to fruition this weekend.

Anyone familiar with the archives knows that I used to go to AC several times a year with a crowd of fellow degenerates. We’d ditch our wives or girlfriends, head to AC for a weekend, and play poker for as long as possible. Now, with several of us with children, the ability to sneak away for a weekend is rare. When we planned this trip, the crew was going to be me, Dave Roose, Eric and my bro-in-law Marc. Usual suspect Robbie Hole had to work. By the time the weekend arrived, Eric had backed out, leaving just me, Roose, and Marc.

We had booked two rooms at the Borgata, the nicest and most expensive casino/hotel in AC. In the past, I usually went for the cheapest possible casino/hotel, but the rates were all high for Saturday night, so for an extra $60 or so ($30 per person), we opted for staying in the Borg, where the rooms are all nice (other hotels have inconsistently updated rooms) and the poker room is literally the best in town by a long shot.

I woke up early on Saturday and, after situating my son on the couch with his milk and fruitbar, said goodbye to my family and headed to pick up Marc. I got to him before 8 a.m., since sleep was no longer a luxury I could afford at home.

The drive was largely uneventful. From his place in Brooklyn, it was about 2 hours away. We arrived at the hotel around 10 a.m., and assumed our room would be unavailable until the late afternoon. Fortunately, we checked anyway and were pleased to learn that our room was available early at no extra cost. We went back to the car, grabbed our bags and set up camp in our room. We then quickly headed downstairs for some poker.

A $100+20 re-entry tournament was scheduled for 11 a.m. It was tempting – I prefer tournaments, although I love cash games as well  – but ultimately decided that with more than 30 minutes before the tournament, I should just sit and play cash and if I were still in the mood to join, I could join the tournament as late as the 8th level. Marc and I placed our names for 1/2 NLHE and were seated at different tables relatively quickly.

It felt good to be back at a poker table. The table overall was fairly friendly. I did notice at one time that at least half the table were obsessed with their phones. I had my moments, too, checking useless stuff on Facebook or returning the odd text, but I did my best to just pay attention to the game. As I watched the chubby girl in the 2 seat watching what must’ve been a movie on her phone and the handicapped guy on my immediate left flipping through the channels on his TV app, I came to appreciate how these two (and others like them) were literally disadvantaging themselves by tuning out of the action. If they joined a pot, you could be assured that they had a hand; otherwise, they would’ve just gone back to watching their phones. And if they played, you knew they had no read on you from prior hands, since they did not pay any attention; likely, they did not even consider their opponents’ cards/play when making decisions.

Nonetheless, it was a friendly-enough crowd. The handicapped guy and I got into a long conversation about random stuff. A new player on my right chatted with me about the game and some rules that must have been obscure for a player who never before played at a casino. At one point, he was heads-up and acted out of turn, checking the river. When his opponent checked, he bet and she immediately folded, tossing her cards into the muck. Someone, perhaps the dealer, noted that the newbie was not allowed to raise, since he checked out of turn and he was bound to the check once the action checked to him. The folding player, an Asian woman who we will revisit momentarily, was enraged. “You can’t do that! He can’t bet the river after checking!” The newbie was really upset that he did something wrong and apologized. She wouldn’t let up, and he was getting frustrated, repeating, “I apologized. I didn’t know.” I quietly told him, “Hey man, you made a small mistake; she made a fatal one. If she knows the rules, then she could’ve said something and you would’ve been forced to check. But when she threw her cards in the muck, she forfeited her hand. That’s her bad, not yours. Don’t feel bad at all.” In the end, nothing came of it. The newbie got the pot and the woman got to feel like the victim.

I had hovered around even for most of the game. At one point, I was down over $100 and reloaded the $100, but got myself back to near even, with a $400 stack ($300 + $100 rebuy).

You can play poker for 6 hours and it can all come down to one hand. This was one of those days, and this was the hand.

I had been dealt 24d in middle position. I had been getting a lot of hands with two mismatched cards below 8. I mean a lot. At one point, I could feel myself itching to play marginal hands because it was the best thing I had seen in a while, but I remembered the advice I give to all other players who fall into that trap: Just because your other hands were garbage, does not mean that your current slightly-less-garbage hand is playable. The poker gods do no care that you have been folding for 2 hours. Fold for 2 more or 200 more if that’s what the poker gods demand of you. Eventually, your cards will come.

Now, some may read that and say, “But Jordan, you played 24d.” Well, yes, but I like playing suited connectors and suited gappers. It may not work for everyone, but I figured with my relatively tight image and ability to fold post-flop, it was worth seeing a flop.

I limped with my 24d, as did others, before the aforementioned Asian woman, let’s call her Sore Loser or SL, raised to $11. There was at least one call before me, so I called as well, admittedly looser than probably optimal. One or two more callers called and we saw a flop:

3d 5d 9h.

I had flopped an open-ended straight flush draw. For the records, there was no high-hand promo.

The action started with the Sore Loser, who bet $40. I looked at the board, looked at the pot, looked at my stack and was confused. With around $84 in the pot and $365 or so in my stack, I could not figure out what the right play was. I took my time analyzing the play. It was probably the longest thinking session I took during the entire day. I found myself in a real quagmire and tried to work out the possibilities.

I considered flat calling, but in any scenario, that seemed like a bad idea. If I missed the turn, I would likely be scared away by a large turn bet. If I called and hit the turn, a flush card may induce SL to fold, cutting off the profitability. Even worse, if a flush card came and she held a large diamond, the flush card may induce her to draw for a four-flush board, sucking out on me on the river  Since I could not see a clear path to success that started with calling, I eliminated that option.

My next thought was whether folding would be appropriate. The part of me that is risk averse was heavily leaning toward folding, but I looked at my breakeven stack and thought that I had to be willing to fight for pots if I wanted to walk away with a profit. Victory is won by the bold. So, I decided that folding was probably not the best idea either, not that I eliminated that idea entirely.

Next I thought about raising. What were my options there? If I raised $100 or even $100 on top, the pot would be so swollen that any turn bet by me or SL would essentially equal my entire remaining stack (which would be somewhere around $265-$200, with a pot size around $280+). I really did not want to be put to that test.  So my next option was to push all-in.

It seemed crazy at the time, raising from $40 to $365. But its only crazy if you care about money, something that I was actively trying not to do at the table. In the end, I figured that by pushing, one of two things would happen (something that is invariably true). Either everyone would fold, at which point I win the $80, or one or more players would call, at which point I’d sit back and wait for the turn and river without any hard decisions to make. Between the two options, I would have preferred for everyone to fold. So when SL called my all-in (she had $600+ in front of her), I was not 100% thrilled.

The turn was an Ace of clubs. The river was a blank. I waited for SL to show her cards: AA, for a set of Aces. I announced, “Straight,” and tabled my cards. She replied, “Straight?” She was confused; after all, it was a rather hidden straight. But then, she paid me.

I continued playing for several more hours. I had only taken one break during the session, a couple of hours before the 24d hand, to get lunch with Dave, who had arrived shortly after us. We went to the Metropolitan, a diner-type restaurant in the hotel, because the food court is under construction. I got the grilled cheese with bacon, the official casino meal of High on Poker. It was amazing, naturally.

After lunch, Dave convinced Marc to play blackjack. Marc was down around $120 in poker and was happy to change it up. I was in AC ostensibly for poker, so despite the temptation, I stayed put. When I won the 24d hand, I texted them both. They said congrats. I asked how they were doing and they gave me a noncommittal, “okay.”

A few hours later, when I was ready to cash out, I had amassed $316 in profit. Moments before this, Dave and Marc showed up with big grins on their faces. They had pooled their money, $200 apiece, and hit a blackjack table. They were down to scraps when their luck turned around. When they walked away, they had $2300, collectively. In other words, while I toiled away for $300, they had made 3x as much, apiece.

Marc and I have a friendly competitiveness, and their win definitely sparked that within me. But mostly, I was just happy for them. It would have been nice to have shared in their spoils, but if I were there, everything would have been different.

With all of us up, we discussed dinner options and decided to treat ourselves. The steakhouses were all booked up, but the Italian restaurant, Fornelletto, had an early reservation available. We were all hungry enough and made the reservation.

Fornelletto was amazing. It was probably the best meal I’ve ever had in AC, both because of the food and the atmosphere. The restaurant itself requires you to take an elevator or walk down several flights of stairs to a cellar-type area. The setup is bright but intimate. An open kitchen area allows guests to see some of the food prep, mostly antipastos.

We got our table, perused the menu and decided to create our own buffet. We ordered the calamari and meatballs to start, and chicken parmesan, lobster fra diavolo and a mixed seafood spaghetti as our shared entrees. Each dish was better than the last, and we all had our favorites. Mine was the lobster fra diavolo. The sauce was spicy enough that I felt it, but it did not overwhelm the lobster or the amazing sauce. But the rest was all great, too, and I’d order each and every dish again, happily.

After dinner, we decided to pool our money for blackjack. We called it a Syndicate (a collection of individuals with a common goal) and went to work. Playing at a blackjack table while sharing money is an interesting experience. Because you share money, none of the money feels like its yours. We each played, but if one of us was close to bust, the others would hand him chips without a second thought. Also, seeing Marc bet big, bigger than what I would normally bet, encouraged me to do the same. After all, the money was shared so if he bet big, then I was already ostensibly making big bets, so I may as well make them and take control of the hand. I didn’t quite reach his levels, but I bet bigger than I ever had before.

On our first session, we all walked away up $150 apiece. We then went to Pai Gow, where the Syndicate remained in play, winning us another $150 apiece.

After Pai Gow, Marc’s beer had caught up with him, so he headed to the bathroom. Dave and I followed, and as we waited, Dave sat down at the second-to-last Wheel of Fortune slot machine in a bank of machines near the bathroom. I took the last one, happy to see that despite being a $1 machine, it was only 3 credits max. Dave’s machine was 5 credits max. I put in $20, he put in $100, and we began mashing buttons.

As I neared my last $3, I figured I had just blown $20. I don’t enjoy slots at all. There are no decisions. Its just pay money, push buttons and hope. With my last $3 (I must’ve won a small amount somewhere, because $20 does not divide evenly with $3), I hit the Max Bet button and prepared to lose. Lady Luck had other ideas. The first symbol to come up was a 3x multiplier. The second symbol was a 2x multiplier. The third was a Bar 7. I had won something, but I wasn’t sure what. As the credits passed $20 and then $40, I nudged Dave. “Hey,” I said, “I think I won something.” He pointed to a part of the machine that showed 480. I had, apparently, hit for $480 dollars. I naturally cashed out immediately.

As I was waiting for the 480 credits to register, I looked over at Dave’s machine. He had $235 or so in the machine.

“How much did you buy in for?,” I asked.
“$100”
“Then you are up over $100. Cash out, man.”
“Oh. Oh yeah.” We, apparently, suck at slot machines. But with that, he cashed out his profit too.

Remember when I mentioned Marc and my friendly rivalry? Well, when he got done with his bathroom break and heard the news, he was emboldened.

“Show me the machine!,” he demanded. I walked him over and pointed to it. He immediately sat down and put $100 into it.

“Okay, man, but I just hit with it. It’s not going to hit again.”

As I watched his balance dip, I was filled with a sense of glee. Keep in mind that this asshat was up over $1,000, so losing $100 would humble him, but not hurt him. The fact that he was chasing to one-up me, despite his earlier huge win, was even better. When he finally hit a spin and it landed on 25, one of the lower amounts, I was openly taunting him. “Oh. $25. Cute.”

But Lady Luck gets around and moments later, he hit another spin. This time, it paid out $200.

“Alright, man. You have your profit. Let’s go.”
“Just a little more.”

I don’t know what he was thinking. He wasn’t going to hit it again. But then he did. Another spin and another $200. You’ve got to be kidding me.

He cashed out somewhere in the $400s. I had still won more than him, but he felt victory making a profit in an unlikely scenario. He can have his empty victory.

After that, we headed to the B Bar in the middle of the casino floor so Dave and Marc could enjoy some cigars they bought with their earlier winnings. We have all been drinking steadily. For me, that mean rum-and-cokes, the official casino mixed drink of High On Poker. By the time we got to the B Bar though, I had switched to Stoli O on the rocks with a lime. Dave was downing Johnny Walkers. Marc generally stuck to beer.

The scene at the B Bar was weird. It was fairly packed with a bouncer checking IDs, despite the fact that the bar was literally in the middle of the casino floor. We were able to get an area with a couch and lounge chairs, and enjoyed our drinks and the view as the guys smoked their cigars.

Once done, we patrolled the casino floor once again. It was only midnight, but the long day had caught up with me and we had won so much that anything more would have felt futile and empty. Alas, Marc wanted one more go, so we pooled our funds once again ($200 apiece), sat down for some blackjack, and had our first losing session.

All done, we headed back upstairs satisfied with our gambling day. Marc and I hit the sack pretty quickly, both of us having been up earlier than 7 a.m.

The next morning, I received a text from Dave around 7:46 a.m.: “Breakfast?”

I was more than annoyed. I finally was able to sleep without a rambunctious toddler who doubles as an alarm. Unfortunately, my rambunctious degenerate friend had the same alarm function. I texted him back:

“Still sleeping. Stop waking me, anus.”

I don’t know why I chose “anus.” Alas, I did. I closed my eyes, content to eke out some more sleep, when my cell beeped again. Another text, 7:52 a.m.:

“Cool. So breakfast?”

Fucktard. I could tell my sleep was over. I showered (a rarity for an AC trip), got dressed and reached out to Dave. By then, Marc was awake and the three of us checked out and headed for breakfast, down at the Metropolitan.

Once again, the Metropolitan did not disappoint. I had an egg, cheese and spinach sandwich on a croissant, subbing the usual meat choices with my favorite veggie. Dave got an eggs benedict with crab meat and Marc got huevos rancheros.

The bill was paid with comps, Dave’s and Marc’s comps to be exact. I apparently only had $1. That’s when I discovered that I had two different Borgata card numbers. A trip to the promotions desk confirmed that my other card had $29 in comps on it. And that’s how I tricked my buddies into buying me breakfast.

The car trip home was uneventful. It was by all accounts one of our most successful trips. I had won $316 in poker, $100 in table games (thanks to the Syndicate) and $460 in slots. My compadres each cleared more than $1,000 in profit. Not bad for an overnight trip.

Until next time, make mine poker!

Poker Drought Continues

April 13th, 2016

Good afternoon, readers. Ready for me to regale you with another tale of poker debauchery. Well, go read the archives, because since the last Wall Street home game, I’m back in a poker drought.

If I were in New Jersey (less than 20 miles away) or some non-nanny state, I’d be able to play in the comfort of my home. Instead, the government has saved me from online poker (where I was a winner). I wonder what all those ex-online-poker players are doing with their extra free time. Sure, some of them moved on to live games, but I’m equally as sure that the majority are like me, too far from legal casino poker to play with any regularity. What’s a man to do when he isn’t playing online poker? I wish I could say something impressive. The sad truth is that most of that time has simply shifted to other games, mostly video games.

There are times that I’m playing a game, even a great one like Fallout 4 or Arkham Knight, that I am confronted, internally, by the futility of it all. At least when I’m playing poker, online or otherwise, there is something at stake. I can and have won nice sums playing live and online, which is something I cannot say for Call of Duty. Poker is not all about the money, but its a factor.

I used to joke that if I could find a game of Monopoly played for money, I’d be playing Monopoly instead of poker. Of course, I prefer poker, but the sentiment is that poker is a fun game, like Monopoly or video games, that ALSO involves a financial stake. The reason why a grown adult can play poker with relative impunity is because it is an adult game, due in large part to the money at stake. But a grown man playing a video game or board game, that’s just pure leisure (or, some might say, kids stuff, not to offend any board game aficionados; keep in mind, I’m a comic book geek).

Fortunately, I did make plans for an overnight trip to AC on Saturday May 21 with Roose, my bro-in-law Marc and another friend, Eric. The plan is to stay at the Borgata for a whopping $420. In the past, we used to follow a basic rule of thumb: find the cheapest casin0/hotel on the Boardwalk. Since we go so rarely, though, and the cheapest rates were still north of $350, we decided to splurge and enjoy what is easily the nicest casino and poker room in the City. We may even take some time off from degen poker to eat an expensive meal…assuming we have any money left by then.

Alas, that is the light at the end of my tunnel. I considered driving to NJ this weekend to hang with Robbie Hole and play some online poker, but my laptop died a few months ago and I cannot justify buying a new one if its sole purpose is online poker every few months. Maybe I’ll still go and just use my iPad. The controls are not as good, but I’ll take what I can get. Until the laws change, I’ll just keep dreaming of being able to play on gaming sites like M88, while I futz around the wastelands of Fallout 4.

Until next time, make mine poker!

Wall Street’s 2nd Reunion

March 14th, 2016

I made my return to poker on Friday. It was my first game since early February and I didn’t play at all in January, so poker has been sparse. The lack of poker has caused me to accept that, at least for now, poker has been relegated a hobby. It was always a hobby, in a way, but the availability of online poker and the freedom of being childless allowed me to make it a passion. I’d rarely go two weeks without playing live, and if I wasn’t playing live, I played online almost daily. Gone are those days.

 The problem with being a hobbyist poker player, rather that the serious (but not professional) player I was, is that every game is like learning anew. A lesson learned a month or two ago without reinforcement or practice just evaporates into thin air. And each session requires time to get my sea legs.
The game in questions was the second Wall Street Game reunion, of sorts. Host Jamie has moved to Connecticut with his lovely wife with a baby on the way, but Wendy was able to arrange for a venue in the City, so the majority of the old crew got back together. There were thirteen players for the first $30 tournament, including my buddy Robbie Hole, who is always game for poker. While the tournament wound down, busted players started a cash game. When the tournament ended, a smaller tournament began with seven players; the remaining players wanted to continue the cash game.
I am glad to say that I did not play a single hand of the cash game, having chopped the first tournament four ways and the second one two ways. Unlike the first Wall Street reunion game (where I lost, I think, $90), I walked away winner with an extra $135 in my pocket.
In the first tournament, I was seated at a table with a guy who I consider to be the best in the room, Darko. Darko’s talent lies in his selective aggression and keen insight into the game. He is willing and able to change gears, bluff at pots, and value bet, so you never quite know where he is in a hand.
This actually led to a minor conflict early in the tournament. I was in a hand against Darko. I had played cautiously, letting him bet most of the way. I was calling fairly thin, since I know his willingness to gamble and felt my second pair/weak kicker was likely good. Nonetheless, when he bet the river, I decided to call him. It was the right call.
He instantly announced, “You have me,” but held onto his cards.  “You have to show,” I said.
He repeated himself, “I said you have me. Come on.”
I held firm, “Hey man, its the rules of the game. You have to show first.” He showed his bluff, I showed my middle pair, and he grumbled. We had some light discussion on the topic, but my stance was immovable. I was paying to see his cards as much as anything. I even went so far as to say that with a lesser player, I might let it go, but that I respected his game too much. I don’t think he appreciated the compliment, but I sincerely meant it. Darko is such a skilled player that I would not give up any advantage against him, especially if the advantage is one created by the rules and his own conduct.
I played decently the rest of the tournament before chopping. At the end, there were four of us, and I was among the two lesser stacks. Someone suggested a chop at 5 and I refused, having a large stack. Once we got to four and I was no longer a top stack, I agreed when someone else mentioned a chop. The chip leader, Ham Hands Pauly piped up, “You wouldn’t agree at five but you will at four?” I responded instantly, “Yeah. Because at five, we would have to split it five ways. Plus, I was winning at the time.” Its not rocket science, people. We agreed that we would all take $90 with Ham Hands getting an extra $20 and 2nd place stack Slavin getting an extra $10. Done and done.
The second tournament was looser than the first, what with everyone having already shaken off their ring rust. When we were down to four or five, I hit a run where I did not fold a hand in several orbits. I was getting some decent cards, but was also willing to play marginal hands or weak hands from the blinds. One could say that I was playing reckless; certainly, it would look that way from the outside. In fact, Wendy made it a point to mention that I had not folded preflop in a while. From my perspective, though, I was just taking advantage of the dwindling number of players at the table, the raising blinds, and, admittedly, a bit of a streak.
Once again, when we got to three players, someone, this time Jamie, suggested a chop, with the third person of our threesome, overwhelming chip leader Wendy, getting a majority of the funds. I declined since it meant basically getting my money back. “Look, I would if the prize money was greater, but I’m not interested in breaking even.” The very next hand, I doubled Jamie up.
Finally, though, I busted Jamie and faced Wendy. It was already almost midnight. Here, I will admit that after the first game ended around 9:30, I was ready to leave. I just don’t have the endurance for poker anymore; I suppose not having a full night’s sleep for 2+ years will do that to you. Nonetheless, down to two, and with mostly even stacks (I had her covered), I was happy to agree to a chop.
On the ride home, I got to spend some more time with Slavin, Ham Hands, and Felix, all of which now live in my neighborhood. It’s great hanging with local poker people. I also had the pleasure of meeting a new poker connection, Andrew, at the game. He hosts a game in Queens that I may attend in the near future with Robbie Hole. The whole experience helped me appreciate the best part about poker, whether as a hobby or a passion: its a great way to meet people.
I got home later than expected, but refused to sleep. Instead, I watched some stupid television. In a perfect world, I would have continued the poker run by searching for the best online casino games available to compare at casinoonline.co.nz. Alas, though, I live in a nanny state, so the best I could do was get through a half episode of Bojack Horseman before turning in.
Until next time, make mine poker!

As a poker player, the journey towards perfect is one that’s never ending. Regardless of how much you’ve learned or know, there’s always a way to improve and refine your skill set. Indeed, from the top of the poker tree and the pros such as Phil Ivey to the lowest rung of the ladder, everyone can get better no matter who they are.

Having said that, the more you learn, the tougher it gets to acquire new skills. Although Mr. Ivey can always improve, it’s very unlikely he’s going to learn anything new by reading Doyle Brunson’s Super System. When you get to a stage in your poker journey where some things just seem obvious, it becomes necessary to think outside of the box.

Looking beyond the standard canon of poker literature and into other arenas for inspiration is something that all aspiring players should do. In fact, even if you’ve yet to master the basics, there is still value in looking at other disciplines for ways to increase your EV.

Casino Games Can Help Your Poker Game

A natural area of investigation for poker players should be the casino world. Games such as blackjack, baccarat and roulette share a number of traits with poker and we can cherry pick some of them to help augment our arsenal.

To illustrate our point and give you some ways to become a better poker player, here are three tips from the blackjack world. If you head into the virtual arena and play live blackjack online, it’s almost as though you’re playing heads-up poker with a real person.

Because games such as blackjack use web streams to bring the action to life, there’s a level of interaction that’s similar to the one you’d find at the poker table. With this in mind, here’s some blackjack skills you can practice at the blackjack tables and then take into the poker world.

Betting is a Business

One of the best pieces of blackjack writing is Lawrence Revere’s Playing Blackjack as a Business. Written back in 1969, this book changed the way people thought of blackjack. Instead of seeing it as a way to gamble, Revere’s work showed how a player can use skill, logic and discipline.

The same is also true of poker. Just like a blackjack player, poker grinders need to look at their long-term EV and understand that your overall win rate is the thing that matters. Yes, you can hit a big score in a tournament, but you need to look at your whole body of results to see your true win rate. If you can do this, you’ll start to pay more attention to every bet you make as you’ll appreciate that everything has an impact on your overall profits.

Look at Your Opponents

The final blackjack skill many top players will use is checking the dealer’s up card before they make a move. Instead of basing their moves on the value of their own cards, top players will check to see if the dealer is weak (showing a 4, 5 or 6) or strong (showing an 8, 9, 10 or ace).

Based on the value of the dealer’s exposed card, players will make certain moves (i.e. stand on totals such as 14 when the dealer is weak because they will bust more often). Applying this concept to poker, it becomes clear that you should always look at those around you before you make a move. If you can pick up on strength or weakness, it can turn a fold into a bet and a bet into a fold.

While it might not seem like playing blackjack will help improve your poker skills, it actually is and we think you should take our advice, ante-up in a casino environment for a little while and see what else you can learn before you next place a poker bet.