Poker Home Games: Black Poker

June 28, 2009

One of my favorite things in the world of home gaming is combining games. Taking a hybrid of two or more tried and true forms of gambling and meshing them into one big melting pot can spawn some unusual but rewarding results. Take double-hand baseball, for instance, or idiots blackjack for that matter. In fact, most of the games that I’ve posted on this site have been the brainchild of a group of bored kids looking for the next variation to ramp up the stakes and keep things interesting.

And that brings me to the latest creating to share with the masses. Not much to this one, sort of the simple genius that was staring you right in the face and you didn’t even know it.

Usually, when you release two titans into the same arena, they’ll spar, fight, teeth and claw at each other. It won’t make for pretty results. One will be left standing, and shout to the mob, “Are you not entertained???”

OK, that’s getting a bit carried away. Anyway, here’s the game. Let’s call it Black Poker. No racial undertones implied, you’ll see what this means in just a moment.

  1. Rules are straight seven card stud, including the deal, bets, etc…

  2. Here’s the twist. Your hidden cards represent not only part of your poker hand, but a separate, independent blackjack hand, as well.

  3. At the end of the hand, dealer will go around the table and offer everyone the chance, for a price of course, to take their last card face up, so as not to “hit” their hidden cards’ blackjack hand if they choose not to. Otherwise, it will be dealt face down. The amount you pay to have it face up is at the discretion of the house. Usually, though, it amounts to the ante or twice the ante.

  4. Cards are revealed. It’s a split pot game. High poker hand wins half, high blackjack hand wins the other half.

Yeah, this is where it REALLY pays off to have a pair of kings underneath. Even more so than that fearsome pair of aces.

My recommendation is to play this game with a group that not only likes blackjack, but is large enough to build decent pots. Usually in home cash games, the house is playing with a betting limit – meaning there’s no all-in. Therefore, the pots usually accumulate from generous betting or matching throughout the hand (see Moose, Continents, etc…)

If you have six plus players, this is a great game to work into the rotation every once in a while. It satisfies those that secretly wish they were at a casino playing blackjack while maintaining the fun of poker, and the ability to keep the best part of your hand hidden until the end. Throw in the buy on the river, and it opens an entirely new avenue into the final round of betting (which can come after the decision if the house prefers).

I like that option, actually, because it pours a little more information onto the “reading your opponents” fire. If you see someone take the card up, you know you’re going to have a decent blackjack hand to face, in addition to whatever poker hand they managed to scrape together.

Having a great blackjack hand off the deal is also a great way to build a pot, since you know that person or people are staying in to see it through to the end no matter what other crap cards they’re dealt.

Strength of the all-in

June 21, 2009

 How strong is the power of the “all-in?” I’ve been asking myself this question lately as someone who’s regularly been on both sides of the equation in recent weeks. It has the ability to just stop a game dead in its tracks like nothing else. You could have two people jabbering over an argument that sparked from a play 20 hands ago, but if someone at the table makes that infamous move, all falls silent…and then all hell breaks loose.

I love, absolutely love watching the all-in unfold in poker tournaments on television. It can happen one of a few ways.

1) The quick response: This is great, because it means either the reacting player was trapping the other players the entire time, or he’s acting rashly off pure emotion. Either way, it’s going to make for great television and reactions once the call is made. You know what I’m talking about. Player 1 makes a huge deal and production about going all-in, and then almost before he or she can finish pushing their chips into the middle, the next player calls. “Call.” Usually it’s in a nice, casual, soft tone, as if to say “You don’t scare me. Bring it on.” It’s at this moment, if you’re watching the player who made the original bet, that you can tell if the first all-in was a bluff or a weak bet to buy the pot. The bet is down, there’s nothing left to hide – all but the best of them will subconsciously let their guard down and give you a clue as to what they’re feeling. It’s a great time to learn about your opponents, whether you’re in the hand or not.

2) The long delay: This is painful for all parties involved except the one making the decision, who is experiencing a whole different type of pain. If it were any other bet, the long delay would give everything away well before the call or fold. You don’t hesitate that long, get up from the table, do whatever it is you do, with a made hand. We’re not talking 20-30 seconds here, we’re talking minutes. We’re talking enough time for someone to call the clock on you – right or wrong (that’s a discussion for a different article). Anyway, this is the guy who, when presented with an all-in, obviously wasn’t prepared to be faced with this decision. He throws his hands up, goes to the bathroom, walks around the casino, goes across the street to get a hot dog…etc… he just can’t commit to putting all his chips in the middle, but apparently has a strong enough hand that keeps pulling him back to the wager. Most of the time this plays out the same way, and you wonder why it took so long to come to the obvious conclusion. He’ll call, see a stronger hand flipped by his opponent, and then almost like clockwork come out with “I knew it. I knew it.” All the while shaking his head. This is a perfect example of when the draw to the idea of being a big winner can overcome your logic and common sense as a poker player. Statistics, situational betting, reading somebody..they all tend to go out the window when the emotions take over.

3.) The accusation: You’ll see Phil Hellmuth and other professionals do this from time to time, and their motives behind the actions will differ. Someone will go all-in, and they just hate having to be put to a decision. So instead of delaying forever, they’ll go on the attack – verbally. “Why are you going all-in? I know you don’t have this or that. Bad bet. Bad move.” Like he just knows for sure what the other player is holding in his hand. Oftentimes, including when Hellmuth does it, it’s to goat the player into giving something up, which is fine. I accept this as a tactic. But other times, it’s just someone unable to control their frustration, and it turns into an outward complaint, obviously misdirected and certainly ridiculous. You’re in a battle of the minds, the last thing you need is an infant throwing a tantrum because he wanted to limp in and catch something on the turn or the river. Tough luck, sucker. In or out?

In any three of these scenarios, there’s a common thread. And that’s the ability to draw the attention of anyone in the room, especially if you’re deep into a tournament, regardless of the size. In fact, the all-in could be between two people who are down to their last half-stack of chips, and it would still be interesting. The idea of someone betting everything they have left is just incredibly appealing. And it’s my favorite part of being a poker enthusiast.

Please, have some manners

June 14, 2009

 So much is made of unwritten rules in sports. In baseball, you better not upstage the pitcher after jacking a home run. Likewise, if you strike out a major slugger, don’t pump your fist too hard, especially in the NL, or you can expect to get one aimed right at your head next time you walk into the batters box. In the NFL or NBA, if you’re up by “enough,” leaving your starters in, throwing downfield or heaving up three-pointers is seen as an act of disrespect.

Whether you agree with these or not, they exist and are widely regarding as proper etiquette in sports. So, how does that translate to poker? Are there unwritten rules of poker, either in the casino or in online gaming rooms? You better believe it.

Professional players, or at least those who’ve played long enough to be considered regulars, won’t whine or cry at the mechanics of the game. They may shake their head at the decisions of another player, but crying “foul” on a flop, or just straight complaining that you’re not getting the cards isn’t what you want to be doing – at least not if you want to be taken seriously. Players there to make money and/or just have a good time will likely vacate the table if something like this continues too much.

You see this chatter more online than you do in an actual casino – the whining about betting, flops, dealing, anything and everything, you name it. And I think the reasoning behind this is pretty obvious. If you raise a racket in an actual casino, after a little while, some eventually will come by and ask you nicely to stop your bull or you’ll be asked (not so nicely) to find a game elsewhere.

It’s become somewhat of an unfortunate epidemic in online poker rooms. Whenever someone takes a sizable loss, half the time you can count on them moaning and groaning and blaming this person or that person for the loss. That’s not only poor etiquette, it’s flat our poor sportsmanship, and just shouldn’t be tolerated on any level.

One way to avoid this is to block the chat. However, this opens the door to something far worse than whining – cheating. If you block the only way to see if people are collaborating with each other, you unfortunately allow yourself to become a victim. Not by choice, of course, but it’s nonetheless every online player must be aware of.

You could report a whiner, but you’d almost end up sounding like a whiner yourself, and it’s certainly not something you want to waste time on when you’re trying to win money and/or improve your game.

So, you’re left to tolerate what you can or simply get up and try a different table or a different poker room. One can only wonder how much whining and complaining and poor manners there’d be if you could anonymously play basketball over the Internet. You’d never get a game finished because someone would call a damn foul every play.

One other area of manners I want to cover – trash-talking. Is it cool? I suppose in certain situations. I don’t particularly have a problem with it. That is, however, if it’s done for the right reason. If you’re doing it to try to elicit an emotional response out of your opponent to learn something from him or her, then by all means, have at it. If you’re just doing it to gloat, or worse, because you’re a jackass, then I have to roll my eyes and put you in the same camp as the whiners and criers.

Tournament joy

June 7, 2009

I want to talk about how great it feels to complete a poker tournament as the winner. It happened to me recently, and in all honesty, isn’t something that happens too often. So when I had the opportunity over the last few days to reflect on it, I came to the conclusion that it’s something special. And I’m not just talking about making a profit. That part, of course, is nice. The true feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment, for me, came from seeing the journey all the way through.

Yeah, that might sound a bit dramatic, but it’s the truth. Like any journey in life, a poker tournament for any one individual will have its ups and downs. How will you handle being dealt a crushing defeat? How do you react when you mathematically should’ve easily won a hand, only to see it slip away to a lucky draw on the river for your opponent? Likewise, if those strikes of fortune happened to you, do you keep your cool and maintain a calm pace focused on the long haul, or do you allow yourself to get high, only to inevitably plunge back to reality just a few short hands later.

Personally, I can’t see how professionals ride the emotional roller coaster of highs and lows without keeping level-headed throughout most of the action. Otherwise, you’ll be so exhausted after a few hours, you’ll become your own worst enemy. Fatigue is not something to discount as a non-factor during a tournament. So to avoid that, I work a steady diet of soda products and keeping an even keel during big victories and defeats. They’re great times for a bathroom break. Not showing too much emotion, also, will earn you some respect from your opponents (see Daniel Negreanu).

The satisfaction, I think really comes from knowing you put everything together. All those tricks, traits, practice, learning and mastering blend to work in unison toward the end result of a tournament win. I’m talking about patience, cunning, will power, smart calcuation, betting prowess, trusting your instinct and making bold moves when it makes sense. And, obviously, a little bit of luck. Managing the ride and staying sharp are the greatest challenges, and if you can look back on your session, even if you don’t emerge the victor, and can say you didn’t make a single stupid mistake, that’s something to be proud of.

Winning, however, is a great accomplishment. And the tournament doesn’t have to be the World Series of Poker or another of similar stature. You can be playing a small community tournament with a $1,000 grand prize. Like I said in the beginning of the article, I’m not talking about the financial gains associated with being the winner. And I think if you do ask any of the winners of the World Series of Poker, they’ll tell you without hesitation just having that bracelet is as sweet as the millions that come along with it.

Finally, I’ve come to understand that going through a difficult tournament that tests your resolve is nothing short of a character builder. You learn something about yourself as a person and as a poker player. Being able to see something like that through, and be the ultimate champion, is icing on the cake.

So my recommendation is find a tournament to play. Even if it’s a poker run to benefit some charitable organization, it’ll offer you an opportunity to go through the ultimate poker test and truly see what you’re made of.  If you’re lucky, you’ll get some kind of plaque, certificate or other form of recognition that you’re a winner.  I’d frame that baby in gold and put it up there right next to the deck of cards that provided me my first royal flush in a cash game.  Those are the memories worth saving.  The money comes and goes, but the stories are what define us as players.