Now that’s cool!

September 28, 2008

What’s the coolest thing that’s every happened to you in a casino? And I’m not talking “big wins”, think outside the box here. Something that doesn’t have to do with money or the actual hands of poker.

Have you met a celebrity, maybe sat down next to one at a blackjack or poker table? Perhaps just catching a glimpse of one is more likely, since they’re usually roped off in some exclusive high-rollers room, either playing the house by themselves, or playing at a table with stakes so high you couldn’t even afford the drinks.

On the celebrity side, I think I saw Ringo Starr once at the craps tables of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. I snapped a blurry picture, but I’m convinced it was him. There was a huge crowd around him, and…well…it looked like him. I didn’t need to hear All You Need Is Love to hammer the moment home.

What about big-time, professional poker players (excluding Moneymaker)? Every happen upon one of them walking around – taking in the sites – brutally abusing a rich tourist or two? I never have. Maybe I don’t go to enough casinos for that to happen. Of course, the kind of casinos around here anyway are hardly the ones you’ll find someone who lends his face to the cover of a video game box anyway.

Nevertheless, cool things always happen in casinos, and not just in the movies, either. Casinos were created as a hot-spot for “cool.”

Does that make sense?

And aside from the literal meaning of “cool,” you know, where they keep the temperature down and pump oxygen into the place to keep you awake, I have experience a couple cool moments worth sharing.

The biggest one I can remember was on a cruise ship years and years. It was March, I wasn’t quite 21 yet, but lucky for me the laws of international waters draw that line at 18, so I was good to go. I was downing Cokes instead of Vodka Tonics, but I was still good to go.

So anyway, this cruise ship and this one alone (I’ve been on 4 in my life) actually had a poker table.

I know, big surprise! And it didn’t have Caribbean Stud markings messing it up, either (although there were plenty of those on the other side of the casino.)

Let me qualify the rest of the article by saying at the time, I was pretty shy of girls. I know, whatever. I can admit it now. So that’s relevant because instead of hitting the club late at night to dance, I wanted the familiar and comfortable surroundings of the casino.

And I made myself right at home at the seven-card stud table.

Now, like I said, this isn’t about how much I won or lost, but just for further reference, I scrounged up more than enough to take care of that duty free Kahlua.

Anyway, at the end of one of the nights…sometime around 2 a.m. or so when they closed the casino for the night, I was talking with the dealer. We had become friendly since I’d been a regular for a few hours each night, and the conversation went around to different home pages (how could it not in a casino, right?)

I shared a few of my own, one being Spots, which I’ve explained in a step-by-step process of how to play in one of my earlier article entries on this Web site.

Well, the dealer loved it, and decided (with the OK from the casino manager) that he would deal it for an hour if there were enough people left who wanted to play. So myself, a couple of my fraternity brothers who were with me, and two other cruise guests sat down and played for an hour.

We played spots. Spots – one of the craziest split pot games that has less to do with actual poker talent than smoking a cigar.

The $1-$5 betting rules stayed, and the lowest card was still forced to open with an ante value chip like in seven-card stud, and we went from there.

It was a very cool moment for two reasons. First, we were playing frickin’ spots in an actual casino setting. And second, I was able to pass along a fun game to new people who enjoyed poker just as much as I did.

Oh, and don’t worry about my aforementioned shyness of girls (not that you cared anyway). Turned out I would actually get laid toward the end of that same cruise.

Now that’s cool!

Get out of my head

September 21, 2008

As I do from time to time, I was catching some of the World Series of Poker on ESPN a couple days ago.  I think it was on while I was doing something else, serving more as background noise than actual entertainment.

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy watching poker with my full attention when I’m in the mood.  I find it quite entertaining.  I usually won’t try to pick up on strategy or skill plays or things like that, I just like to see the hands and watch the players have it out.

Ironically, just the opposite caught my eye when watching this one particular segment.  In fact, I couldn’t even tell you the hands that were in play.  But what I remember observing was one competitor making the off-color comment that “I’m going against my rule here, going against my rule of never get involved with the younger, good-looking players.”

And in case there was any question, we’re talking about two dudes here.

The comment struck me as odd.  Not in the literal sense, I imagine there weren’t any serious sexual undertones  or intentions in the message.  It struck me as odd because it was a different tactic of what I believed to be he guy who said it trying to get into the head of the younger player.

And, it should be noted the “younger” player wasn’t that young to begin with.  We’re probably talking about a 45- to 50-year-old making the comment to a 25- to 30-year old. 

At first I was slightly amused by the comment, and then I got to thinking, would it really work?  It didn’t that hand, the younger guy won a modest pot.  But both players stayed in the game, and you wonder what would happen if they went one-on-one again later in the playing session.  Would the younger player be affected?  Would the comment swirl around in his brain, somehow forcing him into a defensive attitude, and thus altering his play?

Who knows?  Maybe it was just a comment to break some silence.  Maybe the older guy felt threatened and the younger guy was getting into his head without even saying anything.  It’s anybody’s guess.

But, since my guess is he was trying to play some mind games, I’ll stick with that theory for the time being.

And from that, I began to assess the many games I’ve played over just the past year, wondering how often I talk to mess around with someone’s head, and how often it’s been done to me.  A few vivid examples stuck out in my head about how I was affected (actually, still am) by the comments made by some opponents.  And not a surprise that both games were associated with me being down money by the end of the night.

I also would have to admit I regularly talk some trash here and there, disguised in “friendly” undertones, I suppose the purpose at the time is to get them thinking about what I’m saying, in effect distracting them from trying to read me.  Maybe by talking I’m playing right into their hands – there have definitely been times when I’ve gone down the tubes after talking my mouth tired.

I wonder, in general, how often this works.  Even the most disciplined player can’t always control what he thinks, what voices or situations pop up in his head.  It’s his choice what to listen to, but that doesn’t change the fact that he must filter through these thoughts.  And that takes time and takes away from building an advantage in other areas of the game.  We’re, of course, only talking about a split second here or there.

Sometimes, though, in the heat of making a million-dollar decision, that’s all it takes.

Poker Home Games: Football

September 14, 2008

As we enter Week 2 of the football seasons, I’m sticking with the game as the theme for an article for the second week in a row.  Nothing like football season being back in full swing. 
So, no story this time.  Instead, a game I learned recently called Badminton. 
Just kidding, it’s called Football.
A departure from the traditional poker games, even those with wild cards, I found it quite enjoyable as a quick diversion here and there…a little strategy, maybe not the largest pots – and it does require that you have at least a second grade math education.  Nonetheless, it’s a decent game worth sharing.
1.) Every player gets 4 different sets of cards – all dealt face down.  You can either play with stacks of 2 cards or stacks of 3.  We played with 3, but it makes the game easier.  House preference, as usual.
Note: These stacks signify the four quarters of a football game.  The player with the highest score after all four quarters have been played is declared the winner.
2.) Player 1 flips their first stack, or “quarter” (period of play). Betting may take place at that point, or can be done only after everyone has played “the first quarter” (again, house preference).
How the game is scored: Points are given for the 2 (a safety), 3 (field goal), 6 (touchdown, no conversion), 7 and 8 (TD with 1 and 2 point conversion, respectively). (Each card gives the player the relevant number of points.) Variant can include using the Ace as a 1 point conversion but only can be scored in the same quarter as which the player gets a 6. (A six with two aces would be worth 7 points, not 8, as a touchdown can only be converted once.)
3.) Round of betting made after each quarter of play.
4.) Play is the same manner as poker, high score wins the pot, and players are allowed to fold if the betting gets too much for them.
OVERTIME:  If two teams tie for first, this will trigger a period of OT.  Players must buy (for the ante cost) an additional set of cards.  Rules are the same, whomever ends up with the highest score after this round is the winner.  Overtime periods can continue until a winner is declared.

Learning poker? Keep the computer out of it.

September 7, 2008

There are plenty of things we all remember about our tenure as poker players. (I’m not going to use the word career, so tenure sounded the most suitable). Your biggest losses probably come to mind first. How did you make that one misstep, where was your patience when you needed it most, why did your emotions play a larger role than normal?

Right after the losses are usually your most triumphant moments as a poker player. I tend to remember my clutch basketball shots before I remember my biggest poker wins, but still, I remember the amount of money I walked away with each and every time. In fact, I can more accurately recite down to the nickel how much I’ve won out of big pots than I can tell you what the cards were in the hands that won me those pots. But that’s how selective memory works for some people.

What else is there to remember? Your first night in a new poker group, actually nailing that “guess the card” question, running out of money and having to run to the ATM…whatever the story, we all have them, and they all make for good drunken conversation.

But answer me this question – who taught you the game?

Was it a friend, was it a family member? Were you 16 years old or were you 6? Did you stumble upon your dad’s poker game around the kitchen table one night, he pulled you up onto his knee and say, “This is how you play a man’s game, Timmy.”

Hmmm…maybe not.

In all honestly, I can’t really put my finger on where I learned the game. It was either my father or grandfather that taught me, probably when I was learning a handful of other games like chess, Uno, gin rummy and a few others. I’m sure we didn’t play for money, and I was probably around 10 or 11.

But, I can tell you one thing for sure – I wasn’t taught by the Internet. And thank goodness for that.

Why, you ask? What’s the big deal? Well, in my opinion, there are just certain things that shouldn’t be learned in front of a computer screen. Certain things that have more meaning, more value if you pick them up in the real world.

You didn’t learn to read online, you didn’t learn to tie your shoe watching an online, interactive model do it, and I hope you didn’t learn to tie a tie online (I can still barely tie one, so that example is admittedly a little shaky). And you definitely didn’t learn to ride a bike on the Web.

Life’s lessons, taught by family or close friends. At risk of getting too corny, those bonding experiences. They matter. They build relationships. I’d no sooner let my son learn to play poker online than I would let him drive a car without me in the passenger seat.

And no, these examples aren’t different than poker. Those are all important life skills, ones that you learn with real people in front of you and exchange a back and forth of praise, instruction and emotions. You can’t get that online, and you shouldn’t try to.

And yes, knowing how to play poker is, in fact, an important life skill, even if you never wager a cent in your life. Reading people, making good decisions, maintaining patience and keeping your emotions from influencing crucial and professional choices are all traits you can learn and perfect playing the game of poker. Of course, money helps add some “oomph” behind those decisions.

I guess I feel a little sorry for younger people who entirely learn how to play poker through the Internet. I just feel like they’re missing something. I know the online sites (free or pay) can be a great place to practice your game, kill some time, or enter into tournaments you otherwise would’ve had no access to…so believe me, I love playing online.

But not to learn the game online. I’ll keep that in real life, right next to building a tree-house and playing with a dog. Hopefully kids aren’t doing those things online – just yet.