The Cincinnati Kid

June 29, 2008

 WARNING — MOVIE SPOILERS INCLUDED IN ARTICLE

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of viewing The Cincinnati Kid for the first time. I can’t for the life of me explain how this gem slipped through the cracks, especially since I’m such a fan of poker movies, not to mention cinema in general. Had I seen it a few months ago, you can bet I’d have included a few choice quotes for my movie quote article…ones like.

“You’re just not ready for me yet.”

And…

“You’re good, kid. But as long as I’m around, you’ll always be No. 2.”

And….

“I can get the money.” “I know you can, kid.”

I can’t praise the setting, that “classic movie feel”, and the stellar performances that highlight this flick. Of course, Steve McQueen plays The Cincinnati Kid”…but the supporting cast of Karl Malden, Rip Torn (you’d never recognize him) and Ann Margaret light up the screen with memorable and passionate characters.

I was really in awe of how great a job the movie does at showing the poker players unspoken interaction. The “Pig” character sweating and clutching his money. The “man” faking a back injury to give the appearance that he was becoming weak. The doctor calculation poker odds on a notebook between every round of betting. And, of course, the cool, slick blank stares from the Kid. Great stuff.

The movie is great, though, for two reasons.

First, McQueen is a bad ass. No secret, but worth pointing out. He has such an amazing screen presence, and is one of the best in history at acting with his eyes, something so subtle but so key to making his role in this movie. I probably could’ve sat through 3 more hours of McQueen just staring at his opponents with different faces because of how cool it is.

Second, the movie’s about poker. From start to finish. Crazy, huh? A poker movie exclusively about poker. Don’t get me wrong, movies like Maverick (more of an action/comedy) and Rounders (more of a drama) are superb movies in their own right, but they can’t hold a candle to The Cincinnati Kid as a poker movie. It’s kinda like how The Sting is about “the sting” almost from start to finish. It doesn’t mess around and doesn’t lead you off onto too many other tangents. That’s what I love about “Kid.”

Seriously, if you’re at all a fan of poker and movies, you want to see “The Cincinnati Kid.” However, I will say personally that I was somewhat disappointed in the ending. Not necessarily because of what happened to Kid (you can’t help but root for him despite his flaws and mistakes), but because it just ended….right at the end of the big game. I wanted more, more aftermath, more resolution. Something more.

One other nice little benefit to seeing a classic movie like this, is you can then revisit more recent movies you’ve seen that have drawn influence from it and match up the scenes. The major example of this for me was a movie made a few years ago called Shade. It’s about a completely different aspect of poker (mainly being good at cheating), but there are some exchanges between the main character and The Duke in Shade that are almost carbon copies of exchanges between The Cincinnati Kid and Lacey Howard, aka “The Man.”

I think I enjoyed spotting these scenes as much as I enjoyed the acting and gameplay in the movie itself. Another thing I enjoyed was that the Kid wasn’t a hustler, at least I didn’t get the sense that he was being portrayed as such in this movie. He had a solid reputation and was just making his way as a hell of a poker player. Ain’t that the American dream, right? :)

So, “The Cincinnati Kid” now sits near the top, if not at the top, of my list of poker movies. For straight poker action and classic entertainment, it doesn’t get much better. I’m guessing many kids walked out of this movie back in the day wanting to become poker players.

Poker Home Games: Let’s Share

June 22, 2008

Poker Home Game: Let’s Share

All right, it’s been a few weeks since I had a new poker game to share, but this week I have a quick but fun little one for your enjoyment. This one serves as a great break-up between texas hold-em tournaments, or just another one to add to the cash game rotation.

1) Everyone puts in their ante, and each player receives 3 cards dealt face down.

2) Players look at their cards, and there’s a round of betting.

3) Remaining players then select one card from their hand (of their choice, of course) and place it face up on the table. All players do this at the same time so their selection does not influence other players.

4) Round of betting

5) A second card from each player who has not folded is placed face up in the same manner as the first.

6) Third round of betting

7) All players still in the pot show their final card.

8) Fourth and final round of betting

The best hand is selected using ALL 3 of the player’s own cards plus any other 2 cards showing on the table, including cards revealed by players who may have folded in betting rounds 2 and 3. So if you’ve folded anywhere along the way, the revealed portion of your hand is still “live”…a very unique characteristic to this game.

I absolutely love the strategy and bluffing of this one along the way, and the extremely unique feature of you knowing what potentially will be your opponents cards before they do, makes for a unique situation along the way….Think you’re sitting pretty with a pair of aces? The pair of aces will be available to everyone else who stays in for the long haul.

We, the Jury….raise $1,000!

June 15, 2008

Had the opportunity (yes, opportunity) to serve on a jury this week, and through the process, the one constant thought that kept crawling into my head is how good or bad everyone’s poker face was in the courtroom.

Let me backtrack a little bit and walk you through the process. Federal Court, so I’m “on call”, which means I didn’t have a set day that I definitely had to show up, instead I had to call in every night for a two-week period in which a recording would tell me whether I had to show up at 8 a.m. the next morning.

As luck would have it, I didn’t have to wait very long, and got called in on Day 2.

I also was selected in the first group of potential jurors to go in for jury selection on the court’s first case of the day. Everyone is so stoned-face at first…keeping their cards close to their chest. The lawyers – to the judges, to themselves, to the defendants and to us – are stoic as can be.

Anyway, at the end of the process, both the prosecution and defense gave me a somewhat disappointing “accept”, and the rest is history. Just call me juror #5. Actually, you can call me Foreman, since that’s what the other jurors decided.

This trial gave me a taste of how lawyers act toward you…and it was SO much like judging a competitor across the poker table. They know what they’re holding, and you both know they know what they’re holding…but their job is still to make you believe one way or another, or at the early stages just not reveal anything at all.

Then there was the unique angle of the prosecution acting as his own laywer. So, he had a tougher job of being directly connected to the event in question, and thus had to work even hard to convey a certain emotion or make a certain point. In other words, he couldn’t really “check raise” the same as the other professional lawyers could.

Then you come to the judge. The judge has not only a vested interest in wearing his best poker face throughout the proceedings, but he has a legal duty to do so. He can’t be seen or heard siding with either the prosecution or defense in terms of emotion or personal opinion…so he needs to keep his cards held tight to his black robe…hell he even has to play blind sometimes.

The court system does a very good job of holding your hand as a juror, knowing you probably haven’t been through any of this before and are quite impressionable…and most of this instruction comes from the judge. So if he at any point believes one side is holding a winning hand — and then through a gesture or passing comment or even a facial expression lets you as the jury know it — it would pretty much be a horrid breakdown of our judicial system as we know it.

Needless to say, this veteran judge was a master as keeping us in the dark as to what he was thinking. He was not only reserved in manner, but he was extremely patient, as well. Another key talent of a winning poker player, and something that can be harder to teach than betting, reading people or anything else.

I would not want to be facing the judge in a no-limit hold ‘em tournament. Either he’d clean me out or I’d win and end up going to jail. Either way, not so preferable.

And finally, I felt an obligation as a juror to wear my best poker face throughout the trial, as well. (Although it was difficult to hide my boredom during some of the more tedious parts). First, you don’t want something you say or your body language to affect how other jurors perceive the case thus far — it’s almost the same principle of not discussing the facts of the case until you’re actually in the deliberation room. Second, as a juror, you end up wanting to keep your feelings secret until the very end…it’s just the way it’s done.

I really found a strong connection between a courtroom and a poker table. The entire judicial process was new and interesting to me, but the similarity between a game of cards and a civil suit made me shake my head in absolute amazement.

Let’s play some, uh……I don’t know

June 7, 2008

Have you ever fallen into the trap of being too lazy to play well? Sounds ridiculous, right? Good poker players know how to capitalize on situational betting, they know how to read the way another person plays, they know their cards and they know how to bluff. Good poker players take pride in better themselves in all of these skills. So why would you even bother sitting down to play cards in the first place if you’re just going to become complacent about the task at hand?

Surely one can still have fun at the table while putting in the “work” to make sure they’re capitalizing on every advantage afforded to them. Surely they’re up to the challenge of taking their opponents’ money?

Yeah, yeah, it’s all true. But I’ll be honest. Sometimes I’m just too lazy to do any of that stuff. I won’t say it reaches th same level of apathetic play as going in blind over and over again – why would anyone do that? :) – but playing “lazy” can be just as bad, and almost like an amateur player at a blackjack table, can end up screwing things up for everyone else in the process.

Still, though, I admit to the practice. I mean, sometimes it’s just easier, especially if you’ve had a few drinks, to throw caution to the wind and play like you just don’t care. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about.

1.) Avoiding eye contact: I wouldn’t think that reading people or identifying tells would be as prevalent in home games as it would in a casino, especially not as much as something like identifying a playing pattern, but it can be a useful tool nontheless, particularly if the game is in a Hold ‘Em tournament format. And, of course, to read someone, you generally want to be looking at them. But if you’re lazy, it’s easier just to slump down in your seat, glare at your own cards or fixate on the pot for a few moments, and then start playing with your chips. I can’t do that cool one-handed chip shuffle thing they do on TV, but I do like making the annoying clacking sound with a stack. As much as this may unintentionally rattle your opponents into a rage-induced mistake, it’s usually not my main goal.

2.) Forgetting about bluffing: Bluffing is a key tool to keeping your opponents honest themselves. It’s kinda like a game of basketball, in that you’ll always be guarded tight at the three point line if them other team knows you can’t drive. So, like in basketball, you have to throw your opponents a curve, and in poker that curve is, of course, a bluff. Sometimes you need to bluff (especially in a new game where the other players don’t know you or your game) just to show them that you will, in fact, bluff from time to time. For this type of bluff, whether you win or lose the hand is largely irrelevant.

All the same in a game where the other players DO know your game. If you’re just not bluffing, or folding on every opening bet, pretty soon they’ll catch on that they can bleed you dry, and when that big bet from your stack does come, it’ll just scare everyone off before you have a chance to make your money. With blinds increasing at timed intervals, this is a great way to achieve that “lazy” slow death.

3.) Just call: Similar to avoiding the bluff, calling everything or folding is a trademark of the “lazy” player. He won’t raise back, won’t attempt to engage anyone in a betting war, content to either keep the pot at lower levels, or if he has a sure-win hand, content to claim whatever the pot makes through other’s raises. Sounds stupid, right? Sure, but who said being lazy went hand in hand with making perfect sense. When laziness creeps in, so does the effort it takes to think these things through sometimes. You really, literally, just don’t want to put forth the effort to care.

So, you’re definitely asking again, if you’re going to just go through the motions and be lazy, why even bother playing? Well, that’s a great question. It used to be I just didn’t have anyting else better to do. But now…..well…..eh….I’ll answer that some other time.

Blind-sided

June 1, 2008

Can you see?

Or perhaps of more relevance is….can you see your cards?

An even better question yet is…….do you want to?

Sometimes I want to, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, if the mood strikes me right, I’ll give it a whirl and try playing blind.

Why?

Hell of a good question. It would seem pretty stupid. Why take away the seemingly essential part of playing cards…knowing what your cards actually are before betting or seeing a bet. Would it really be like trying to play an instrument for the Boston Pops without the notes in front of you? Would it be like trying to was your car without a hose? Would it be like….eh…you get the idea.

Well, there are a few reasons why I play blind, which I would guess are universal among casual home-game players.

1.) I’m losing. If I’m down a significant amount of money and I just have that “I can’t win” feeling on any given night, you start thinking you might do better if you don’t even know what you have. Basically you stop caring. You’re more apt to go all-in for no specific reason other than finish off your night, leave the bad taste at the table and head home….mostly sober.

I don’t usually resort to doing this, but it has happened. When I’m losing I tend to go through a crapload of emotions, from head-shaking frustrating to shoulder-shrugging apathy and everything in-between. Deciding to play blind usually comes into the picture somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. And it typically doesn’t help.

I don’t apologize for it, either. I think it’s reasonable and justifiable that if you feel helpless and non in control of your hand, that you’d opt to have even less control over your hand just to slide further down that extreme (if that makes sense).

2.) I don’t want others reading me. Usually this won’t involve playing blind the whole hand, perhaps just through the opening round of betting. Most of the time during home games, I’m not in company of wildly talented players who can identify tells and read facial ticks at the drop of a hat. But, every now and then I’ll come across a table where there’s that 1 guy who thinks he can…and even if he really can’t…it’s annoying as anything to see him take satisfaction from thinking he made a correct call base on his “skills” of reading people.

Therefore, I remove that from the equation. I’ll check or call the blinds without looking at my cards. Let him mess around with his little “reading” game on other people. Spares me the “I knew it” smirk at the end of the hand if he’s right. And, of course, if he’s wrong, he’ll still nod his head like he knew it all along. I used to play with one of these jokers in high school. Needless to say he wasn’t invited to my wedding.

Then, of course, there are those who actually can read you like a book. Usually they don’t pop up in a quarter-blind game (they’re looking for bigger fish to fry), but you never know. This keeps the advantage down, if only for a short time.

3.) I like surprises. Hey, who doesn’t! That’s actually one of the major reasons I enjoy playing midnight baseball. Nobody else knows what you have, but neither do you. Everyone gets to find out at the same time…how exhiliarating. Seriously, though, there’s nothing wrong with wanting that added spark or rush of adrenaline, or whatever you want to call it, when playing cards. The Texas Hold ‘Em flop, the wild card middle flop in criss cross, it all amounts to the same thing – surprise.

After all, that’s what you’re playing for, right? To have fun? Heh, yeah, right.

And sometimes you play blind just for the hell of it, just to switch things up a little. Variety is a necessity when you’re playing from 8 p.m. until the sun comes up anyway. Just like a nice quick game of Indian poker, playing blind offers some challenges, as well. Can you pick up on things you normally wouldn’t have if you had your own hand to think about, too?

Well, c’mon, answer…..don’t leave me in the dark.