Poker Vs. – Round 4: Fantasy Football!

August 31, 2008

I’ve spent the last couple months dodging invitations to participate in fantasy football this year. You see, as much as I love the sport, and the competition, I’m retired. I retired last year with a new baby on the way, and enjoyed it so much I decided to stay in retirement this year, as well. All was going fine…I had succeeded in avoiding the work league (my biggest challenge). But then wouldn’t you know it, fate had me pulling a Brett Favre. My brother would be out of town for his draft and needed me to draft for him…OK, no big deal, no major investment in time. I’m still fairly up-to-speed on the players, etc…, so I agreed to help him out. Then he sweetens the pot for me – I don’t have to pay any of the entry fee, but if we win anything I claim half the pot. So now I am invested – throughout the whole season – out of retirement.

Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in.

Anyway, I’m no slouch at the big FF (1st place and 2nd place finishes over the last 3 years)…and I like to think I can hold my own against most people out there – similar to what I like to think about my poker skills, as well.

So, logically, that got me thinking today….the result of which being the next installment in the Poker Vs. series.

That’s right, poker’s Round 4 is against Fantasy Football. Will poker improve to a respectable 3-1? Or will Fantasy Football beat poker back down to a .500 record?

Let’s find out.

At the most surface level, it’s fairly easy once you know the different poker hands. Two from your hand, three community cards totals your best 5-card poker hand. Grading scale 5/10
FANTASY FOOTBALL: I’d say you first need to understand football in general before you learn the rules of fantasy football, otherwise you’ll be completely lost. Learning football – really learning football – is probably the hardest of the big 4 sports. So taking that into account, and the fact that you have to keep track of all the different types of scoring, bye weeks, I could literally go on for 5 more paragraphs…. 7/10

Hold ‘em games, much more so than draw games, rely mostly on odds and statistics, instead of knowing what the keep and what to drop. So, really, under this category of the skill, if you understand what hands are more difficult to achieve in a hold ‘em game, you’ve already got a leg up against the competition. 3/10
FANTASY FOOTBALL: This, again, takes a strong knowledge of football – just for starters. Once that’s accomplished, you need to be 100 percent (and into the future if you’re really good) up to speed on player performance, player injuries, strength of opposing defenses, bye week, etc… Then you need to stay up-to-date every day (not every week – because the waiver wire waits for no slow poke.) It also helps to have played for a few years, so you can understand how to draft for position, and when it pays to do so. You also have to be able to respond quickly during a draft if you’re guy goes unexpectedly. I’ve been playing on and off for 10 years and I still don’t understand everything – it’s always changing. One year you think you’re solid with RB-RB at your top 2 picks…the next year you’re a fool if you don’t take a WR in the second round. 8/10

Poker’s playing skill is dominated by intelligent betting, which is why these two different areas are combined into one. Taking control of the table with a power bet, throwing others a curve with a curious check, etc… (the list goes on and on) take talent, experience and balls (I sat here for 2 minutes trying to think of a better word to use, but I really couldn’t…sad). Aside from betting, poker players must be able to figure how their hidden hand plays not only against the community cards, but also against what other might be holding (of which betting from them can be a reveal to the contents of these hands, as well). 9/10

FANTASY FOOTBALL: Admittedly, fantasy football doesn’t fall into this category the same way as card games, meaning it’s nearly impossible to group betting and playing skill together here. But in the interest of fairness I’ll talk about each one, then average the scores to get the 1 final tally for this category. OK, for betting, it’s a zero. Everyone pays their fee, everyone pays (if it’s a league rule) the same for trades, adds and drops. That’s it. For playing skill, the main elements once you get past the draft are how you set your lineup every week, and how closely you watch the waiver wires. Setting your lineup might sound simple since your options are limited…but I’ll be honest, I’ve sweated more over whom to start in my final offensive flex position than I have calling $100 pots with a pair of Kings. And if you lose by 1 point because you started the wrong guy, you don’t forgive yourself – ever. I’ve made bad calls before in poker (or bad moves in general) but I typically forget most of them (a select few stay with you), but I remember every single time I started the wrong guy in fantasy football…one of the main reasons I tried my hand unsuccessfully at retirement. (So here betting gets a zero and playing skill gets an eight) AVERAGE SCORE 4/10

Well, this is pretty much what the game is famous for after the gold bracelets and sunglasses. If you got it, you got it…and oh boy does it make a difference. 10/10

FANTASY FOOTBALL: Reading people, believe it or not, actually does come into play here. Mostly during the draft itself…but you have to be able to anticipate who’s going to draft at what position. Some of that knowledge can be assessed from what they’ve done so far, some from previous experience drafting with a person, and some is just watching how they react to other draft picks. Getting a good feel for how different people draft, and being right, will be invaluable and let you pass on someone you know will be there when your turn rolls around again. 4/10.
POKER: Luck? LUCK??? Blasphemy, you say. Yeah, yeah, whatever. Even the champs will tell you, there is SOME luck in poker. No more evident that the cruel, cruel river. Luck detracts from skill, so poker gets a -3 here. Minus 3

FANTASY FOOTBALL: If you don’t think luck is involved, just ask everyone last year who DIDN’T draft Adrian Peterson….or ask those who routinely draft (or had drafted) Deuce McAllister, Priest Holmes, Donovan McNabb, etc… Luck comes in the form of sleeper stars and big-name injuries, and it can wildly sway the balance of power at any point in the season. Now, for the most part, players perform at least in the general range of what you’d expect (I’d say 70% of the players have predictable seasons)…so luck doesn’t hurt or help you too much unless your #1 or #2 pick is out for the season. Still, luck matters. Minus 2. Final Score:

Wow, I thought at the beginning there poker was in trouble, as FF came blasting out of the gate with back to back high-scoring categories. But in true fashion, poker remains the rock of the 2….while Fantasy Football proves to be just a seasonal challenger.

Poker invite? Be careful…

August 24, 2008

So, how’s your poker relationship these days?

Let me clarify – are you happy with your home game group?  Are they fulfilling as challenging, fun, enjoyable company on Friday or Saturday nights?  Or do you seek greener…er…blacker and redder pastures for your skills?

            Better than all those questions might be this one…could you find a different game in your area if you tried?  Or more to the point, one you could trust.

            Let me take you through a story about how these questions popped into my head yesterday.

            I’m out running an errand (my dog crapped on the carpet – again – so after the steam cleaning session, I was tasked with driving out to find a refill of incense), and I figure I’ll combine it with a trip to Gamestop.  They have a 25% off Used PS3 games coupon, and I’m always up for a deal, so I head in to pick up the new Battlefield: Bad Company game (which kicks ass by the way).

            I’ll preface the rest by saying just as I entered the place, the skies opened up and a forceful downpour was to keep me trapped inside for the next 15 minutes.  As I think about how much worse the rain is going to make the flooding from Hurricane Faye, I locate my game of choice, walk around a little bit, and then finally take it up to the counter. 

            Now I’m B.S.’ing with the manager there since I’d prefer not to leave until the rain dies down.  He’s non-offensive enough, I’d say mid-30’s, heavy-ish, poorly gelled hair with black glasses.  We start talking about this demo, and that game, and systems, etc.., and he drops a line to his buddy across the counter about how he needs to get out by 6 p.m. so he can get on to his poker game.

            “Poker,” I repeat casually.

            And thus opens the door to a conversation about this guy’s regular poker game, and how he’s won a ton of money at the place (don’t they all.)

            He plays at some veterans’ lodge where they give 15% of the take to their own cause to keep it legal.

            After talking for a few minutes he realizes I know poker and invites me to a future game.  I tell him I’ll think about it, take down his info and thank him.  All the while I’m noticing how much shiftier the guy looks now than when I first walked up to the counter.  He talks, acts and just gives off the general impression that he’s crooked, that he’d screw you any which way to get a few bucks out of your wallet.

            Still, I’m tempted…mostly because I’ve been in this area for about 5 years, but don’t have many friends outside of work living around here, and it’s not easy to come upon an invite to a poker game.

            Although I suppose a game coming out of a GameStop visit isn’t any more promising than one coming out of somebody I met at a bar.

            And I’m sure I could use some site online to locate a local game, but again for me to trust factor comes into play.  Even if all the other players are completely on the level, you’re still going in completely blind to everyone else’s game, tells, tendencies, betting patterns, etc…

            Puts you at a disadvantage.

            A day later, I think I’m going to just lose the guy’s info and stick to my regular couple games.  The idea of playing with someone new is, as I said, tempting, but I’d rather not drop more than $100 to learn my lesson.

            Pessimistic attitude?  I admit it, sure.

            Now it’s off to kill some evil Russians while crackin’ jokes to my boys in B Company.

Go Wild!

August 15, 2008

When it comes to poker home games, only 1 thing comes to mind when I hear people talking about “The Great Debate.”Sure, there are little issues or rules that come up, and can end up being points of contention. Every home game has had to decide things such as whether a royal flush beats five of a kind, or how long the time limit is going to be between raising the blinds, or why the fridge no longer has any beer in it, but in my mind, the “Great Debate” refers to nothing other than the wild card dilemma.

I’ve been around games where the mere metion of a wild card would cause the temperature in the room to drop 20 degrees and bring out scowls on faces that would frighten a war veteran.

Surely there’s nothing so hateful about a wild card? Those cute little deuces…those sympathetically disabled one-eyed jacks…hell even the King is taking care of the hard part and getting suicidal so you won’t have to murder him…so what’s not to love?

Personally, I like wild cards. I’ve never flip-flopped, and I couldn’t imagine a Saturday night home page without them. They just make the games too damn entertaining.

And they provide much needed variety to the rotation that would become painfully stale if revolved solely around Hold ‘Em tournaments and seven-card stud. As much as I love those two games, and as much as they continue to rule as the “kings” of the poker world in my book, they’re just not enough to sustain my interest throughout a 5-6 hour session…especially in games that don’t include a few rounds of Hearts (which, sadly, is most of them).

Think about it, without wild cards, here’s what you have.

Baseball (all versions): 3’s and 7’s are ….3’s and 7’s. So basically you’re left with seven-card stud with the ability to buy an extra card if you get a 4 face up. Yawn.

Follow the Queen: Follow her where? To the next regular card. This game ceases to exist anymore.

King Sh—y: One of my favorite games also becomes irrelevant. The whole game is based around wild card decision making…otherwise it’s just another name for 5-card draw.

The Cross: Now, this game still would exist, and it would still be interesting, but there’d be a much smaller payoff to staying in until the final, middle card is turned up if that card isn’t wild….because most of the time you’re sitting, hoping to double that up to give you a leg up in your hidden hand against the competition. How ya gonna take that away from me, bro?

That’s just a small sampling…and really the one that hurts the most is baseball, because with baseball comes midnight baseball, double-hand baseball, etc… I can’t remember the last time I played an ante game and baseball wasn’t called at one time or another.

However, to be fair, there still would be a good sampling of non wild-card games to choose from…although depending on how much of a purist you are, these “wildish” games might be frowned upon all the same.

Moose: Lots of buying and swapping, and waiting for the final card to determine which was the split pot goes, but no traditional wild cards in anyone’s hand. This game does, however, get about as close as possible without actually declaring a wild.

Chicago: Good, clean Chicago. High hand takes half, highest spade in the hole takes the other half. I’d probably rely on this one and Moose for 75% of my non hold ‘em/stud action in Saturday night games if wild cards were abolished nationwide tomorrow.

Continents: No wilds, no money pots? Not so fast. Continents can and probably will still reign supreme as the master of all pot-building games.

Pass the trash: And the unique games stay in the mix, as well. Pass the trash makes the wild-card cut, and it doesn’t even have to ride the bus.

Guts: Legendary game, infinite variations, none (that I know of) involve wild cards. Lots of hand dropping, but no wild cards.

So there you have it…and you’re probably saying I didn’t spend any time actually debating whether wild cards were good. And you’d be right. I make no apologies for being firmly in the pro-wild card camp. And maybe I will (in an as unbiased manner as possible) pick up a real debate on the merits of wild cards vs. the detriments in a future article, but for now consider this my love letter to those little friends that can turn a hand of 10 high into a royal flush.

Now if I can just keep that one king from stabbing himself in the head….

Is “Stud” the stud of all poker games?

August 10, 2008

    Since beginning this weekly column/blog, I’ve pitted poker up against a few formidable foes in my VS. series…with poker coming out of round 3 with a respectable 2-1 record. (Sorry, diehards, I still think hearts has it beat).
    But that really comes as no surprise. I mean, everyone who plays poker knows it’s a much more involved game that demands critical thinking at every turn…that is if you want to win. 
    I wonder, though, how poker stands up against – poker!
    The thought crossed my mind this week when I caught another Hold ‘Em tournament on ESPN (seems like the World Series of Poker is every month these days).  Of course, it was Hold ‘Em. 
    Now, I might stand in a lonely corner by myself on this one, but I grew up learning 7-card stud (and 5-card draw), and it was the only poker games I knew about.  We only played seven-card stud in certain poker games.  Texas Hold ‘Em was just one of those “other” poker games we might try to throw into the rotation in quick passing just to switch things up…but it was never a “regular.”
    So since it was on my mind, I got to wondering, which game is really better when you break it down.  Or more to the point, when I break it down.
    Just straight head to head, no “buy a card” options, no aces, deuces, one-eyed faces wild, no passing cards to your left, no “1-2-3-drop” rule, no “match the pot or fold” cards, no “undercutting”, no nothing.  Just the two games, naked.
    Let’s get to it.
    Seven-card stud: 
    Positives: Your cards are your cards – if you catch a lucky run, you don’t have to share 5/7 of it with the rest of the community.  Also, more hidden cards/better hidden potential.  And this goes along with all your cards being your own, as well.  I find it easier to hide a monster hand under my hidden cards in 7-card stud than I do in Texas Hold ‘Em.  I can’t tell you how many times I beat down arrogant businessmen on cruise-ship casinos who thought they were gonna show some “punk kid” how it was done.  A few hesitations on returning bets, one big check raise – and those two innocent hearts showing pair with three happy ones underneath to form a $75-funded flush. 
    Negatives: More opportunity to get sucked in on a draw hand (again, this is only my opinion) – and this especially holds true if you’ve paired a down-card with something up before fifth-street.  Can be harder to get others to stay in if your open hand builds up strong (the other side of the double-edged sword of having no community cards).  Depending on how you look at it, having to ante can be viewed as a negative, although in many casinos they start the betting with the lowest up-card, and the others have the option of staying in or dropping without having to throw in. 
    Texas Hold ‘Em:
    Positives:  The game of champions, the history, the aura, the big names, the tournaments, the millions, the bracelets, the legends, the mystery – all that is Texas Hold ‘Em.  Oh, we’re talking about the actual game?  I see.  In that case, the sheer mental test of wills it presents is unmatched.  With community cards you know so much more about your opponents hand…and yet so much less.  No limit betting (as a standard) rules.  You can’t bluff effectively when the max bet is set.  It just doesn’t work.
    Negatives:  Not for the weak of heart.  And this will come as blasphemy, but at one point or another, luck can send someone completely out of the game.  It’s a lot harder to accomplish that in 7-card stud.  I take that as a negative.
    The verdict?  Much like that baseball All-Star game a few years back that pissed everybody off, I’m afraid I’m going to have to Bud Selig this thing and call it a tie.  The bottom line for me points to two games from a similar mold that take the game play into completely different directions, but I can’t conclusively say one is better or worse than the other one. 
 Although I’m sure you all have your favorites and opinions, nobody can deny (I think) that these are both great poker games, and deserve to be in every Saturday night game rotation.

“THE” Casino

August 3, 2008

In a recent article, I talked all about feeling cool at the card table.        

  And getting that one right hand, the one where you can put an arrogant player in his place where he belongs, is right up there with feeling as cool as can be.

            But I got another one for you that stands in a class all its own.

            Seeing, walking into and playing poker in Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in downtown Vegas off Fremont Street.

            I’ve had the opportunity to see Binion’s twice (although I’ve been to Vegas 4 times in my life now), and actually sat down to play only once.

            And it’s now been a good nine years since I’ve been to the place, so I am going off some rather old memories, but most of what I experienced remains pretty vivid.

            From the outside, the place really doesn’t look like much.  I remember fewer lights and fanfare than other hotels, even the “old school” ones holding down Fremont Street during the day. 

            Much different from The Strip, Fremont Street (at least nine years ago) still offered you casinos you could walk into and find $2 Blackjack right near the front.  The carpets are a little dirtier, the air is a little smokier…but for that taste of the gritty Vegas so many tourists don’t get to see (and don’t want to see), there’s no better place than downtown.

            On a quick side note, if you do ever make it downtown, I can’t recommend Hugo’s Cellar highly enough.  One hell of a steak.  Of course, the last time I was in Vegas a couple years ago, I couldn’t find the place anymore.   So either I didn’t remember where the hell it was (in a basement somewhere, as you may have guessed), or it’s no longer there.  Not a huge deal, as I’m sure it’s not hard to find a good steak joint in Vegas.

            So, moving on.  Got my picture taken outside…just to have that “I was at Binions” moment captured on film forever. 

            I certainly don’t claim to be a great, great poker player.  But I love the game and I love learning about the history.  And man is this place ever chalk full of poker history.

            Once inside, I remember vague images of the place looking like a 1970’s hotel.  And not the nice lobby part, but the barren hallways between convention rooms.  Different shades of burgundy littered the landscape.  No fancy lights coming up from underneath the bar, no dancing girls, just people getting down to business.

            On the walls in the poker room, you see oak (some kind of wood anyway) framed pictures of old and new poker greats.  The Hollywood Walk of Fame for the poker greats if you will.  I spent nearly an hour looking over them all, studying each face.  I almost felt like I would’ve been in a museum had there been more-detailed write-ups on each champion’s history.

            Well, after taking the atmosphere in, I did finally pull out about $50 and found a table of $1-$5 seven-card stud, which is the only poker game I’ve ever played in a casino believe it or not.

            All I remember is trying to bluff a hand with a pair of tens, and eventually losing to the gentlemen to my right.  Out the cash, I nodded silently and took my leave. 

            Can’t remember much more about the cards.  To be honest, I was too involved in enjoying the experience to really care about winning or losing.  Not the perfect recipe for winning poker, I know, but I couldn’t help it.

            Being there, though?  And talking about it again now?  That I will never forget.