Home is where the game is

July 29, 2007

The recent bill that is crippling internet poker for sites like PokerStars.net and  FullTiltPoker.net got me thinking. Not necessarily about the bill itself, or about the political motivations behind said bill, but more about what it would mean to me as a poker player.

What would it mean for me? Or more to the point, what would it mean for the poker-playing public. Not the regulars, but the casual frequenters to the gambling sites, that when it comes down to it, really won’t care one way or another if Internet gambling in the U.S. takes a cue from the nation’s Prohibition era.

And at the root of the issue, I think it will end up being a positive. A positive for serious poker enthusiasts, as well as the casual poker fan.

Who will be hurt the worst? Aside from these sites themselves, my guess is ESPN. Without Internet gambling, I predict that the gradual fading of the “fresh romance” the public has had with poker recently will be greatly accelerated. Without an “at your fingertips” outlet to enjoy the game, I can’t see as many people still following poker on television.

That’s just me. I know free poker sites will still exist, but I’ve always thought that if you’re not playing for money, is playing poker just for fun….fun?

So, how is this a positive? Well, for me it’s a positive because I can’t stand how poker became mainstream. And I also can’t stand how I’ll flip the channels and land on Kathy Griffin and the guy from Monk dueling head-to-head on Celebrity Poker. Not only do they butcher the game, but they’re always C-list celebrities. If you’re going to throw annoying personalities out there who (for the most part) don’t know the game and are just there to “be seen,” and least have us “see” someone hot.

One random note, those shows always make me think of the old computer game called Celebrity Poker with Jonathan Frakes from Star Trek: The Next Generation and two others I can’t recall. They had the same 2 or 3 programmed responses for every hand, and yet it still was more entertaining than Celebrity Poker.

I know this show per se isn’t on ESPN, but some other crappy cable channel, but you get the point.

So, if shows like that, and the 300 souvenier poker chip sets at the endcap of every Target and Wal-Mart, disappear…I’ll take that as a positive.

Now, why is it a positive for the casual poker fan?

Easy. It’ll force those who do love the game to get together and form more home games. And the home poker game is a great thing. And here’s why:

1.) The feel: Even if you’re not adept at reading people, having others phyically there in front of you makes the game that much more intense, especially if it’s a serious money game, and not just a weekend social event. I want to stare someone in the eyes for 10 seconds while I make them think I’m going to bluff (and instead slow play my straight). I want to see how they breathe, and I want to see if their hands sweat. I don’t like how the Internet takes that away from me.

2.) The company: And for those who are just there for the social atmosphere, a home game is slightly more entertaining than a computer screen for sharing a few beers and listening to music in the background. I prefer a nice cigar or two, as well. (Well, they don’t really have to be nice, just clean) And the computer doesn’t seem to get as annoyed as the idiot who’s been blind calling all night when I blow smoke in it’s face.

3.) The honesty: It’s a hell of a lot easier to catch someone cheating when you’re sitting 2 feet away from them than when you don’t even know what country the Web site you’re on is hosted in. I’m not accusing any particular Web site of being crooked, but I will say one of my friends called to complain about something once, and the Web site said “Keep playing, you’ll ‘have luck’ for the next hour.” Damn, I’d hate to be the other people at the table while she was “having luck.”

4.) The banker: Any time I can inject one of the characteristics of monopoly into real life, it’s a good thing.

So there’s my two cents on the whole Internet gambling bill. Yeah, I’m stretching a little here and going out on a limb a little there, but I think most of what I said may happen has some merit. Or I could just be using this as another reason to hope for the end of Celebrity Poker Showdown.

Poker Home Games – Follow the Queen

July 22, 2007

This is a simple, quick variation of Seven-Card Stud (which can be found on Poker Stars.net), which I’ll assume anyone who’s reading this already knows how to play. Follow the queen is fun every once in a while, but I’m not a fan of it being in the regular rotation. It’s not that I’m against wild cards….I’m just against games where the wild cards can and do change mid-hand.

Anyway, here’s the rundown:

1.) Hand is dealt same as regular Seven-Card stud. Order of betting, etc… is all the same.

2.) The major difference in this game is that Queens are wild (this won’t change throughout the hand) and the up-card that follows the Queen also is wild (this can/will change throughout the hand.)

3.) So, for example, if you’re playing with 4 people, and the up cards in order in which they were dealt are 10, Queen, 6, 4….then all 6’s are wild, in addition to the Queen. Of course, if on the next card, another Queen comes up, then the card that follows that would then become wild and the 6 would once again become….crappy, probably.

***One more thing to note on this, if a Queen is the last up-card of fifth-street…then the first card dealt on sixth-street would be wild. That’s a good split, because it forces a round of betting without anyone knowing what the next wild card will be, but having a good idea that if once already had been established on the table, it will be canceled on the next card. However, Queen remain wild throughout the hand.***

4.) There are a couple options that can be added into this game to spice it up a little bit more. First, you can decide before the hand whether the river card will be face up or face down. Choosing face up, of course, gives the hand 1 more round of tempting fate and changing the wild card. It also increases the odds of more Queens showing up, as well.

5.) Another addition to this one is throwing in Black Mariah rules, or whatever you may call it in your home game (high spade in the hole takes half the pot.)

I don’t know where that one came from, it’s kinda random. I think that’s what happens when you’ve played all of your home games so much that they seem redundant even to you. They end up mutating and start stealing cool powers from other games…kinda like Rogue in X-Men…only less hot.

I’ll raise you that coffee table

July 19, 2007

Cash is great, isn’t it?

After all, that’s what we play for. You can buy anything you want with it, it folds up nice and neat, and now it’s all different pretty colors, too.

And, you don’t have to worry about cashing it in at the end of the night.

Before poker exploded on television, and on internet sites like PokerStars, it was also a hell of a lot easier to find cash than it was to find a good poker chip set for home games. You had to dig deeper than the entrance to Spencer Gifts or the end cap at Target.

I’m sure, though, somewhere along the line, most players are or were like me. You played for something else.

What else? You’d be surprised.

Here’s a little story of each type of winnings I incurred during my years as a home game poker player. I’d love to hear from readers and see what else they’ve put up besides a stack of blue chips and a $50 bill.

1.) Food – I know, everyone’s played for Cheerios and pretzel sticks with their grandparents while it was raining during half of your childhood Florida vacations. But in college (which is where most of these will take place for me), we upped the ante, so to speak. We played for steaks, we played for frozen fried rice dinners, 24 packs of Coke, pounds of Swedish berries (mmm….Swedish berries) and cotton candy jelly beans, and plenty more. Of course, it would do me little good to win, since most of my fraternity brothers would sneak back in and eat most of my food anyway, but I definitely satisfied one hell of a sweet tooth by being able to play some cards.

2.) Furniture – The end of semester at college is great for one major reason. People leave. Especially the people that got on your damn nerves. However, most of the time, with those people cannot go their furniture. And aside from the hand-me-down crap that’s been “winded” by everyone on campus more than a few times (yes I’m talking about that chair with so much dried mold on the arms that it magically became two-tone), there is a quality piece of furniture to be had if you can coerce the right person into alleviating the stress of finals with a well-earned game of cards. My favorite take was a three-person, oversized blue couch that came my way courtesy of a two-hour session of midnight baseball. Not only that, but the guy I won it off of wasn’t even graduating, so the added bonus was that he had to come sit on his old couch for the next year whenever he came to my room. Priceless.

3.) Books – Books, you say? What good are books? Well, books (again in school) are as good as currency if you win them at the right time. And the broke kids were the best to tap for these. They wanted to play cards, they’ve just finished finals and are looking for some fun before/after the bars…but they NEED to save their money for booze. Hopefully you can catch them before they turn the books in themselves. Even though a store-bought science book that weighed 50 pounds and cost $120 bucks at the beginning of a semester might only get you 35 bucks before winter break, it’s still $35. I remember this one jackass who thought he was going to run the table on me (and he wasn’t that bad, he just caught a horrible run of cards.) Not only did I take all his money and his Psych book, but later that day after he’d make a second run to the bookstore, I cleaned him out of the remaining $85 bucks he’d made. Then, to add insult to injury, when he went out to the basketball courts to be alone and ponder how he’d lost $350 bucks in four hours, I went along to join him. Good times.

4.) Mikey money – You ever have that guy you play with that always runs out of money? It’s not that he didn’t bring any, it’s just that he always, always loses it? And you tolerate it because without him, there’d be a lot more even talent at the table? Yeah, me too. And for argument’s sake, let’s say his name is Mikey…even though that’s his real name anyway. One fine evening, Mike runs out of money, as usual, and through our best efforts, the rest of us try to keep track of what he owes everyone in our heads, and eventually on a notepad. But we get tired of continuing to swing his debt after each hand, and are looking for an easier method. So, we cut up the notepad paper and write denominations on each little square. 50 cents, $1, $5, etc… And I think at the end of the night, there was almost as much “Mikey money” on the table as there was betting chips. Of course, Mike money is only as good as the Mikey behind it.

Those are the major ones for me. I’ve never played for a service, and I’ve never played for clothes, although I really wish I had sometimes (just not with Mikey.)

Poker Home Games – DQP

July 12, 2007

All right, now that the general description for pimp guts is up for everyone, we can move on to one of the greatest games ever invented by 2 people in need of a game they could play with just each other that would be fun and challenging at the same time.

Whew, that was a mouthful.

So, what does DQP even mean? Well, it stands for Double Quarter Pimps, as when we came up with the game as kids, we were playing for quarter antes. This variation, as you can guess, requires two quarter antes per person. You can also bump it up one more time to Triple Quarter Pimps, and so on. But anything past DQP in my opinion gets a little excessive, and you quickly run out of cards in the deck.

Here’s the rundown.

1.) OK, so the basic structure and rules of pimp guts still apply. Please see my home game explanation in an earlier article for a review of how to play.

2.) The twist on this game is that each player is dealt two independent hands. The game also can be played with more than 2 people, in fact, it’s preferable to have a regular group. It is, however, possible to play with two people, since you’re technically then playing with 4 hands.

3.) You cannot mix the cards between your two hands (if you do, it is cheating).

4.) As far as order of turn goes, it is the same as in pimp guts. The person to the left of the pimp is first, and must decide based off his three-card hand whether he wants to go in or out.

5.) One important thing to note for this game, you cannot look at both of your hands at the same time. You only can look at your hand on the right until you have made a decision on that hand, and then you are free to look at the cards in your other hand.

***Rule 5 can be exceptionally aggravating, in that you may put a pair of 10’s into play in your first hand, only to find you have a pair of Aces in the second hand. Of course, if the pimp card is a king, you may end putting the Aces in, as well, as a safety strategy. This decision would basically boil down to you only owing one ante to the pot if one of the hands was a winner, and the other was a loser, since you’d technically be clearing the pot with your winning hand, and then owing “pot plus 1” with your other hand.
This is also a strategy the pimped person can use to minimize the damage of being pimped if his or her other hand is a strong pair. And if the pimped person’s second hand is first in the rotation, this method also can be used as a bluff to send the message that you have a strong hand to beat, and are willing to forfeit any winnings to put your second hand into play.***

6.) The rule that you only can look at the hand you are put to a decision on first also applies to the person who is pimped. On pole position, however, everyone is allowed to look at both of their hands at the same time.

7.) The house, of course, has the option of whether to put pairs or triples into play (once again meaning if more than one person shows the same up card on the initial deal, those players are also pimped). And with twice as many hands as regular pimp guts on the table, the odds are greatly increased of having more players pimped as a result.

So that’s how you play DQP, a game that seems like a simple step up from regular pimp guts, but is a hell of a lot more fun in my opinion, and can provide for some explosive situations and huge pots (depending on where you set the roof, of course.)

And you’ll have to see for yourself how tempting it will be to “borrow” an ace from one of your hands to match it with the Ace in your other. It’s hard, let me tell you, and as kids, we had it out for each other, knowing that the first thing on everyone’s mind.

In fact, whenever a pair would come up, the first thing out of everyone’s mouth was, “Did you switch?”

The answer was either a stupid grin and an admission of guilt…or….well usually it was an admission of guilt. Funny, that must have been the reason we only trusted one of the guys in our group in the first place.

Here’s to you, Shoe!

Enjoy!

I hear that DQP is possibly going to be started on www.PokerStars.net – that would be a blast.

They’re better than you think

July 2, 2007

I played cards over the weekend with a group that I’ve sat with only twice before. I know one of the guys well, and the game was at his place, so I usually feel comfortable going over there knowing it’s a fair game.

Most of the people over there all work at the same restaurant, and it seems to me they just gather to blow off steam after a long day of waiting tables with some Texas Hold ‘em.

Fine with me. I can’t exactly relate to their line of work, but hell, everyone has long days at the office. And for most of us, it’s everyday at the office…whatever form your office may take.

So anyway, the first time I was over at my friend’s house and joined in this game, it was obvious these were just a bunch of people (guys and girls) who had taken interest in poker because it has exploded in popularity. They had the felt table top that’s sold at Spencer Gifts, along with the silver briefcase poker chip set.

All nice, stuff, by the way, and all these poker chip sets and tables are, in my opinion, well worth the money. I remember when we used to play with quarters in high school, and someone had to be the “banker,” which meant stop by the bank and come prepared with $50 in quarters. I suppose that has it’s benefits when the night is out, though, seeing as you don’t have to worry about coming up short when cashing out everyone’s chips.

But anyway, as a veteran poker player, you have to be careful not to prejudge this new group of players just because they can seem like “poker tourists” as I sometimes refer to them. Or “bandwagon” players who’ll likely find something else to do when the game’s popularity drops again, or they simply get bored of the group they’re socializing in.

The reason why you have to be careful? Of course, it’s fairly obvious…some of them are good. A number of them probably play on PokerStars.com. I watched one of the tournaments they had before sitting down, and I was impressed with the betting discipline and the time they took (even through a few bottles of beer) to analyze the table before reacting to a bet. They all knew each other, which definitely helps when trying to read someone, and their instincts did them justice when figuring out of bluff, or knowing when someone caught on the turn or river.

I learned my lesson the easy way…not to underestimate these players, which goes further than just assuming they don’t know the game. I also wanted to stay disciplined in my betting, so as not to lose out on potentially more money when sitting with a strong hand.

Turned out last weekend it paid off for me.

It was our second tournament of the night, playing with 6 others at the table. I was playing tight, but bluffed once or twice knowing I’d probably lose just to let them know I’ll do it every so often. At this point in the game there were 4 of us left. I called the blinds with a pair of jacks…the guy to my left bet 20 bucks, at which time I quickly called.

The flop is Jack, 7, 4…all suits different. Figuring he had an ace or something higher than my jacks, but wasn’t likely to see a matching pair come up on the turn and river, I bet back his 20 after a moment. To my surprise, he raises back 40. At this point, it’s eating deep into my remaining stack, so I move all in.

I should mention we’re the only two remaining in the game at this point.

He hesitates, smiles and calls, saying “you know I couldn’t lay this down.” He then turns up a pair of kings.

I nod politely, feeling secure in my hand. The turn and river are no help to either of us, and I win the pot, and subsequently, the game about 5 hands later. And even more to my surprise, the losing player takes the beat well, offering his hand and a “great hand” gesture, of which I accept.

Who knows, maybe all these “poker tourists” are good for the game in the long run. After all, who am I to judge?