Internet Gambling

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I play poker on my computer. You also know I consider poker a game of skill… though I could hardly prove that over the past few months of online play.

I’ve never been sure if it was legal or illegal. If you’ve ever watched poker on TV and seen ads for places like or, when the real gambling is going at at the corresponding dot com, you know there are others not quite sure of the legality.

Now Congress wants to make it perfectly clear. From the NY Times:

With bipartisan support and Jack Abramoff

Patience Through Poker

Every time she emails me, my friend Wendie tells me how much she enjoys reading the blog – except when I write about poker! Wendie, go elsewhere today.

In real life, when I talk about my obsession for online poker (yes, I’ll admit it’s an obsession), the person on the other end of the conversation always brings up luck. There’s no doubt about it, poker is affected by luck – but only in the short term.

This is really important. Luck would be important if poker were just a card game. As played online and in casinos, it’s really more of a betting game – a very important distinction.

If you can quantify the odds of drawing a hand which will win, you can make educated decisions about when to hold ’em or fold ’em. Poker players talk about odds the pot is laying, an obtuse way of asking whether another bet is a good or bad idea.

I think that’s the part of my game which has improved the most. I understand the value of my bets and the value attached to the bets of others. It’s an imperfect system, because you really don’t know what cards your opponent is holding, but you can often tell by how he reacts to certain situations.

If you were to play against me, you’d see me be less aggressive when you’re a passive, though persistent opponents. Often times, passive play is a ploy to suck out bets from an inferior hand. Too often I’d bust out of a tournament by my own aggressive bet made against a superior hand held by someone playing possum.

Big talk for a guy who is not quite even after 2&#189 years of online play!

Actually, I was down to my last $20 a month or so ago. It upset me that I was going to bust out. I mustered whatever discipline I had and tightened my game.

All of a sudden, the swing began.

When I was down to my last $20, I was playing for very small stakes. I couldn’t afford to lose much at one sitting. I entered $3 + 40&#162 ‘turbo’ tournaments or $5 + 50&#162 ‘regular’ tournaments. The downside was small.. as was the upside.

As I began to play tonight, there was $165 in my bank. That leaves me $10 behind my starting point in August 2003&#185! Considering the tens of thousands of hands I’ve played (no exaggeration), and that the casino is pulling a small commission every time I sit down to play, I’m doing quite well.

I decided to play something a little higher risk tonight – a satellite tournament. For $5 + 50&#162, you enter a tournament to win a $530 entry in a much larger tournament (actually the main tournament will pay at least $1,000,000, shared among those ‘in the money’).

The $5 + 50&#162 amount is a little misleading, because you can rebuy for another $5 and then add-on for $5 more. I’m in for $15 + 50&#162, which bought me $5,000 tournament chips. Those paying the minimum got $1,500.

We started at midnight with 431 players. There were 824 re-buys and 217 add-ons. The $7,360 in the kitty means 13 players will cash out for $530. A 14th ‘only’ gets $470.

I played in a much cheaper version of this tournament last Saturday and missed the money by two positions. Ouch. One stupid bet at the end was the difference between something and nothing.

I’d like to do better tonight… obviously.

Nearly three hours in, there are 67 left. I’m in 4th. Obviously, that’s a good place to be, but not even close to a guarantee I’ll cash out.

If I’m not too depressed, I’ll let you know how I did later on.

Addendum – While I edited this entry, the game played on. Now only 50 are left. I’m in 7th place. No guarantees, but this is a good place to be.

Addendum II –

PokerStars Tournament #19966358, No Limit Hold’em

Super Satellite

Buy-In: $5.00

431 players

Total Prize Pool: $7360.00

Target Tournament #19571119 Buy-In: $530.00

13 tickets to the target tournament

Tournament started – 2006/02/22 – 23:59:00 (ET)

Dear ctwxman,

You finished the tournament in 1st place.

You qualified to play in Tournament #19571119 and are automatically registered for it.

See Tournament #19571119 Lobby for further details.

If you choose to unregister from this tournament your account will be credited

with $530.00 Tournament dollars. Tournament dollars can be used to buy into

any tournament.

Visit our web site at for more details.


Thank you for participating.

I guess I’m up now!

&#185 – I originally bought in for $250. Along the way, a friend asked if I’d put $75 in his account, since it’s a pain in the butt to get the money to Costa Rica. That leaves a net of $175.

What’s the Opposite of I won?

My poker tournament experience has ended. I didn’t win. That’s not to say I didn’t have a god time or I didn’t play well. Except for one small move early on, which I now question, I was pretty happy with my play.

I got to bed early (for me) last night. Sleep was not very good and I was up just after 6:00 AM. I left the house around 8:00 and drove the 70 minute trip to Foxwoods.

Though the roads around the casino were reasonably busy, I realized as soon as I got to the valet parking area that Thursday morning was not prime time. Mine was the only car there and a nice young woman quickly walked up and gave me a parking ticket.

If you’ve never been to Foxwoods it is a world unto itself. The complex is immense. It was, and may still be, the world’s largest casino. As big and bold as Foxwoods is, the area surrounding it is the opposite. Surrounded by the town of Ledyard, there is still plenty of farmland and low density housing and businesses in the area. As you approach from the north, the high rise hotels dominate the rolling terrain of eastern Connecticut.

I got to the poker tournament desk at 9:26. I know this because it’s on my receipt. I said hello, paid my cash, chose between a hat, t-shirt and $10 in food coupons (food – though not used) and headed toward the tournament.

How fitting is this for a seniors poker tournament, we were in the Sunset Ballroom!

I walked into the ballroom. It was a breath of fresh air because I felt, I looked, I (probably) was the youngest person in the room. I’m used to being the oldest at work. This is more fun.

I scouted the room and didn’t see anyone I knew. Then I spied Jimmy Christina.

I have described Jimmy here before, so let me be brief. Jimmy is not tall, though he easily stands out in a crowd of people. His gray hair is pulled back in a ponytail. He has a Southern New England accent&#185 delivered in a voice reminiscent of a gravel road. Standing in his tuxedo, he is the absolute height of incongruity.

When I grow up, I want to be Jimmy Christina.

There’s one more thing about Jimmy. If you watch him from afar, you will see a constant stream of people coming up to him, saying hello. All of them are smiling. Jimmy is smiling. He is charming.

I moved to my seat at table 30, seat 8. The room was filled with long, narrow, Texas Hold’em tables. Each was set to comfortably seat nine players. The dealer sat in what looked like an executive’s office chair. I am told they hate it because it has no back support.

This tournament was ‘sponsored’ by “Oklahoma” Johnny Hale. Johnny is old school poker, back when it was all guts and instinct. It was the era before mathematicians quantified the game’s nuances into a series of odds and ratios. Johnny introduced some other older players, shilled his own line of merchandise and books and led us in the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence. He is everything you expect from someone who goes by the name Oklahoma Johnny.

In a poker tournament, you buy in for a fixed amount and then get tournament chips, in this case $1,500. They’re not good anywhere else, just in a tournament and can’t be turned into real cash. You keep playing poker, hoping to survive as more and more players bust out.

Today’s tournament had 295 players. The top 25 would win money, starting at $777 and going up to better than $40,000. The goal in tournament play is survival. Survivors are paid. Winning is of secondary importance. I hope that makes sense.

Since the game was No Limit Texas Hold’em, anyone could bet all of their chips on any card. It didn’t take long until someone did – and walked away the first loser. I was one player closer to the cash.

Compared to online play, live poker is very slow. And compared to online play, I’m not multitasking. The game at hand gets my undivided attention.

With forced bets and a few cheap peeks, I quickly turned my $1,500 to $1,350. I was somewhat uneasy, though it didn’t affect my play. I was very self conscious. I didn’t want to be out early. I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing.

At the far end of the room a big screen TV displayed the current stats. What were the blinds (forced bets for two players each round)? How much time was left at this limit? How many players were left?

Table 30 was one of the first to get broken up. As players leave, and some tables have empty seats, tables are combined to allow everyone to sit at tables with a similar number of players. I was sent to Table 8, Seat 1.

Around me, the room was alive with the sound of cards being riffled and chips clinking. It is a steady castanet sound which permeates the room. It is actually reassuring to hear. I looked down at the stacks of chips in front of each player. Already there were huge differences with some players close to busting out and others amassing fortunes.

Life at Table 8 didn’t go much better. Slowly, as if I had a leak, chips were disappearing from my stack. Before long I was down to $320.

With a forced bet of $75 and a number of players already calling in front of me, I went all in with a pair of 4s. Being dealt a pair is good – but 4s… well even a pair of them… is no bargain. If anyone else matches any card other than a two or three (unlikely they’d be played anyway) you’re dead meat.

On the fourth common card, ‘the turn,’ a third 4 was dealt. I had a set (three of a kind) and was now back to nearly the $1,500 I started with. A few more good hands had me up to $2,000.

Meanwhile, on the TV screen the numbers were changing. As tables were consolidated the player count went down – 225, 200, 175, 150. My chip count had me below the middle of the pack, but I was still playing.

And then, I drove into oncoming traffic at full speed.

The limits had gone up to $100/$75. A few players limped in with minimal bets when the action got to me. My cards – two red Aces. In Hold’em there is nothing better to have than a pair of Aces. I raised to $300.

A few players dropped out and then, across the table, another player pushed his chips toward the center. He was all in. In order to play my Aces, I’d need to match his chips.

I had Aces. There is nothing better.

I pushed my chips in as we both turned over our cards. He showed another Ace and a Jack. This was wonderful. Additional Aces wouldn’t help him. He needed two Jacks or some ridiculous out of the blue miraculous one in a million shot… and there would only be five common cards with which to accomplish this.

The dealer rolled three and then one and then one more. Of the five cards exposed, four were 7, 8, 9 and 10 (the 8 coming on the last card, know as the River).

I still had my Aces. He had a straight!

I was left with a few hundred dollars. It didn’t take long to lose that when my King, Queen was beaten by a Queen, Jack.

I had played four hours and fifteen minutes, finishing 102 of 295.

Good play can get beaten. It is, after all, gambling. Yes, there is skill, but skill tempered by chance.

I’m glad I played. I enjoyed the tournament. I wish I would have come home with some more money.

&#185 – Usually limited to far Eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island, this regionalism makes a Boston accent sound soft and gentle.

My Mom Says Don’t Be a Gambler

I speak with my mom nearly every night. I call her from the car on my way home from work. Though my dad is sleeping – he’s sleeping without his hearing aids, so it’s not really a disturbance.

She says she’s awake, and most of the time she probably is, but I know there are nights I must wake her up. She likes the calls and I do too, so she doesn’t complain.

Every once in a while we’ll talk about poker. She doesn’t know the game at all. She does, however, have poker advice for me.

“Geoffrey,” she will say, “don’t be a gambler.”

I think she means don’t bet a lot. Don’t bet money which is important to your life or lifestyle. Don’t risk your family’s well being. She is right.

The kind of gambling I do is penny ante stuff. And, at least for the last nine months, I’m winning – which makes it a little less threatening. Still, she has a point and I will heed her.

I have tried to explain to my mom that poker is a game of skill, with a fair amount of luck involved. You can be good enough to win over the long run – to beat the players and overcome the rake. There are pros who make their living at the tables. But, for short spurts, anything can happen.

Recently I have been getting the impression that, even if only by dumb luck, I stumbled into the best way to learn – concentrated online play. I read a blog entry yesterday that confirmed and enhanced what I had been thinking. I have no idea who the author is.

The results of the 2004 WSOP Main Event has made it dramatically clear that learning to play no-limit online has become the quickest way to become proficient. This realization is currently slamming the faces of a lot of poker pros at this very moment. Poker pros who are still experiencing shell shock at how well the “dead money amateurs” have been able to read them like open books, and in the process were able to neutralize their bluffs with calls based on very good reads of their “betting patterns”. Some of these pros will go into denial by blaming luck and ignorance on the part of the “dead money amateurs”. If you are one of these pros, you can continue to do this at your own risk.

He’s talking about the World Series of Poker, now nearing its conclusion in Las Vegas. His World Series of Poker read is similar to my recent impressions at Foxwoods.

Almost immediately I found an inner peace I had never experienced at a poker table before. Everything was crystal clear. I was totally confident. I watched as players went in and out, betting, checking, folding. I knew what they had… or was pretty sure.

I’m playing online tonight, honing my skills, as I type this.

I’ve made a promise to myself to tighten up my game another notch. Since Sunday’s tournament win, I have played too many hands – to my own detriment. I can’t be scared to fold. In the little sit and go, single table tournaments, I play (in fact in any tournament), the goal is not to win. The goal is to outlast and survive.

In my first tournament, it didn’t help.

Nor in the second…

Nor the third.

Amazing Comeback

On December 13th I wrote about how bad our poker luck had gotten. From nearly even on December 1st we were down $150 only two weeks later.

It didn’t end there. Over the next week we continued sliding until we were $210+ down since our original buy-in.

At this point, let me put this into perspective. We deposited $250 at in the middle of August. Between the two of us, we’ve been playing multiple times every day. Even if we would have tapped out, it still would have been fair value in entertainment for our money.

Poker is a fun, strategic game with both skill and luck on every hand, and it’s a challenge to play right.

About a week ago, all of a sudden, out of the blue, our luck changed again.

I think I started winning consistently before Helaine, but it doesn’t make much difference, because we both started winning. In the little $5.50 and $11 tournaments we play in, it’s difficult to move in either direction at any more than a snail’s pace – but we did.

As I type this, having just held on for dear life and placed third in an $11 tournament ($18 – $11 = $7 net profit), we are now down $59.98 over our 4&#189 months of online play&#185.

Somehow, we managed to erase $150 in losses.

So, what are we doing differently? Probably nothing. Maybe some nuances… tough to say. Both of our games are mature, in that we’ve played hundreds of times and have established our strategies.

If there is one thing I can put my finger on, I now play tighter when I’m down late in the game, which has paid off. Tonight was a perfect example. With 4 players remaining, I had $280 of the $13,500 (these are tournament chips – not real face value) on the table. I held tight and didn’t bet mediocre cards just because I was running out of cash. When someone else did, he busted, letting me finish in 3rd place.

I think both Helaine and I would benefit from a better understanding of what to play when the table gets down to 3-5 players. With fewer competitors less becomes more, I suppose.

Meanwhile, we’re going to head to Foxwoods this weekend where I will try my luck face-to-face. Helaine prefers online play and will find other ways to fill her time.

&#185 – The pennies are from the few times I played in low stakes “live” games.