Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Prompted by a recent conversation about Kafka with a friend (the gist: his work is fun to think about but often tedious to read), this weekend I reread Walter Benjamin’s essay “Franz Kafka: On The Tenth Anniversary of His Death.” Like most Benjamin’s work, the essay, while rhetorically incoherent, brims with insight. The opening paragraph is especially wonderful:
It is related that Potemkin suffered from states of depression which recurred more or less regularly. At such times no one was allowed to go near him, and access to his room was strictly forbidden. This malady was never mentioned at court, and in particular it was known that any allusion to it incurred the disfavor of Empress Catherine. One of the Chancellor’s depressions lasted for an extraordinary length of time and brought about serious difficulties; in the offices documents piled up that required Potemkin’s signature, and the Empress pressed for their completion. The high officials were at their wits’ end. One day an unimportant little clerk named Shuvalkin happened to enter the anteroom of the Chancellor’s palace and found the councilors of state assembled there, moaning and groaning as usual. “What is the matter, Your Excellencies?” asked the obliging Shuvalkin. The explained things to him and regretted that they could not use his services. “If that’s all it is,” said Shuvalkin, “I beg you to let me have those papers.” Having nothing to lose, the councilors of state let themselves be persuaded to do so, and with the sheaf of documents under his arm, Shuvalkin set out, through galleries and corridors, for Potemkin’s bedroom. Without stopping or bothering to knock, he turned the door-handle; the room was not locked. In semidarkness Potemkin was sitting on his bed in a threadbare nightshirt, biting his nails. Shuvalkin stepped up to the writing desk, dipped a pen in ink, and without saying a word pressed it into Potemkin’s hand while putting one of the documents on his knees. Potemkin gave the intruder a vacant stare; then, as though in his sleep, he started to sign—first one paper, then a second, finally all of them. When the last signature had been affixed, Shuvalkin took the papers under his arm and left the room without further ado, just as he had entered it. Waving the papers triumphantly, he stepped into the anteroom. The councilors of state rushed toward him and tore the documents out of his hands. Breathlessly they bent over them. No one spoke a word; the whole group seemed paralyzed. Again Shuvalkin came closer and solicitously asked why the gentlemen seemed so upset. At that point he noticed the signatures. One documents after another was signed Shuvalkin. . . Shuvalkin. . . Shuvalkin. . .

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Poker Quiz, II

Here's what I did on the hands mentioned earlier.

1. My read on the player was that he was tight, even nitty.  He wasn't a young stud; he didn't seem capable of making boldly creative plays.  Going on that, I put him on either QQ, JJ, 10/10, AQ, or AK.  Those are the hands that someone who plays his style would have opening UTG.  I don't think he had AA or KK because, given his style, he would have reraised my button raise pre-flop.  I also don't think he had a smaller pair because, given his style he wouldn't have raised UTG, he would have limped.

What that meant was that after the flop (10 J Q) I was almost certainly behind.  The only hand in his range that I beat was AQ.  For everything else, he had either flopped a set or made the nuts.  Again, given his style, I thought his opening check suggested a strong hand.  Most average touristy-type players will generally check huge hands on the flop, hoping to check-raise.  (This, by the way, is one reason I generally advocate leading out with a big hand.  Paradoxically, it often disguises the strength of your hand).  I felt, given my read, that my check was the right play.  If he had any of the hands I put him on, a bet would only amp a pot he was winning.  And if he had a set, I might unwittingly force myself to fold.  Since I had an up and down straight draw, seeing a free card could only help.  Right?

Yes and no.  The problem with the 9 (the turn card) was that it might have made me the second-best hand.  I'm beating a set, of course, but I'm still losing to AK.  And the more I studied this dude the more I believed he had AK.  Then, he lead out--for 200$.  Again, what hand could he do this with?  An eight?  Well, maybe--but I didn't think he'd called my preflop raise with 88, much less opened with it.  A set?  Again, possible, but I thought he would check a set or two pair, hoping to improve to a full house, or at least see a cheap river.  The fact that the 9 gave the board two spades lead me to believe he was betting to protect a flush draw.

I could have called here, of course.  But 200$ was almost half of my stack, and I didn't see the point of a call.  What was I going to do if I called and he shoved the river?  What was I going to do if the board paired?  The turn is often the point where you commit yourself (or not) to getting all your chips in.   That's why I try not to call large bets there.  Here it seemed like, if I called, I would be committing myself to getting all my chips in.  And, as I said, my read was that he had AK.  It hurts, but sometimes you have to fold the second-nuts.  Which is what I did (after a lot of agonizing).

2) My read here was that the player on the button was tight, and when he reraised I was worried.  He had called me preflop on the button--not raised.  To me that meant he couldn't have KK.  QQ was possible, but wouldn't he just call my flop bet with QQ, worried that I might have him beat?  (I had played very tight to that point, and I had, after all raised from very early position).  The raise worried me.  Again, I don't see the point of me calling here.  Either I'm way ahead, or way behind.  There are no draws to speak of; if he has QQ he's probably going to call a shove here (assuming he thinks it's good enough to raise with).  If he has a set, he's going to bet the next two streets, and, again, I'm going to get further and further into a pot.  To my sometimes detriment, I try to play raise and fold poker much as possible.  Calling is always my least favorite option.  So, convinced that the player had a set of 4s or 10s, I folded.  Because good players make good laydowns... Right?


The first player did indeed have AK.  Everyone was impressed by my fold (I had showed my neighbor my kings).  I was elated: I felt like I had just saved myself 500$.  Because in poker, it's not that hands you win, it's the hands you don't lose....  (Postscript: the same player got all his money in against me an hour later with two pair to my nut flush, and drew out on me on the river to win a 500$ pot.  Oh well).

The second player had KK.  He had decided to trap me before the flop by merely calling raise, figuring I had QQ or JJ and would go broke on a board of low cards.  A situation where his unorthodox play totally fooled me, though not in the way he intended.  I just did not put him on KK--I assumed he would reraise that hand preflop with two players in the pot already (and one a maniac).  Had I gone all-in, he would have called in a heartbeat and I would have won (assuming it held up) a big, big pot.

The problem with having 1000$ behind you.  You have to be willing to make big laydowns, and sometimes they are bad ones.

So, one good laydown and one bad one.  Oh well.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Odds And Wombats

I don't have any big ideas these days, but I did want to post some small bits.

1. The Poker Quiz will be answered next week.  Thanks to all who have posted; I'm really enjoying finding out what you would have done.  In my original post, I meant to say that I made the wrong play on one of those instances, and the right play on another.  Not that that should affect your reasoning.

2. No need to go into gory details here, but let me says that if I could speak the language of dogs for 30 seconds I would say this: eating the synthetic stuffing that comes inside of pee pads is not good for you.  No it is not. 

3. We made an offer on a house.  News to follow, perhaps.

4. I have a new job.  Well, actually an old job: high school tutor (SAT, Math, Physics and maybe--Gulp--Latin).  But it's a great company and the pay is good, so I'm excited.  What this means is that poker will go back to an intense hobby.  And that, my friends, is a good thing.  I've never hated playing poker so much as I did the last three months.

5. This Saturday I'm going to see a Hip-Hop dance showcase.  Really.  I know what many of you are thinking: "ANCIANT, given your mad skills, shouldn't you be _performing_ in said showcase?"  I should, yes.  But the people of LA aren't ready.

6.  Just in case any of YOU ALL feel like eating the synthetic stuffing that comes inside pee pads, be advised: they don't exactly move through the digestive system with speed and grace.  

No they do not.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Poker Quiz

Instead of writing about poker as I have in the past--a strict narrative recounting--I'm going to try something new.   I'm going to give you the information I had at the time of making relatively big decisions and let you all tell me what you would do.  In a week or so, I'll post again, tell you what I did in each situation, and how it worked it out.  Both of these hands occurred in Las Vegas in the last few months; in both instances I later found out what hand my opponent held.

Hand One: The Wynn Casino, 2/5 NL

I have been sitting at the table for about an hour.  I have played tight aggressive and have built up my 400$ buy-in to about 550$.  I haven't shown down a hand yet.

My opponent raises under the gun to 30$.  He gets one caller in middle position.  On the button, I look down to see KK.  I raise to 90$.  Both players call.  They each have about 500$ in front of them.

The flop comes 10s Jc Qd.  Both players check to me.  I check.

The turn: 9s.  The UTG player leads out for 200$.  The middle position player dithers out loud for a long time, and more or less tells the table he's behind but he wants to gamble.  He calls the 200$.  

Action is to me.  What should I do?

Before you answer, here's what I know about the UTG player (the middle position player is irrelevant).  He's late-30s, early 40s.  Slightly balding beneath a canvas-type baseball cap.  I believe I've heard him say to someone that he owns a car dealership out of state.  He's not played many hands.  

Hand Two: The Bellagio.  5/10 NL.

This was one of my first forays into 5/10 NL.  I have about 800$ in front of me, and the rest of the players at the table have the same.  I have dropped about 200$ over the course of about three hands in 1.5 hours.  

In  early position, I look down at AA.   A massive massive donk in front of me limps for 10$.  He has played nearly every hand at this point.  I raise to 60$ (the standard opening at the table).  A player on the button calls.  The donk calls.  

The flop comes: 4 10 2, rainbow.  The donk checks.  I lead out for 120$.   The button player makes it 350$.   The donk folds.

Action is to me.  What do I do?

The button player, the raiser, is a heavyset late 20s guy.  Friendly, and clearly from out of state.  He has sat down about 30 minutes ago.  He did not post until the big blind came around to him, waiting for about 15 minutes at the table.  He has played one hand so far, calling a preflop bet and then folding the flop.

All right, let's go: feedback!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


I have invented an exciting new game.  The rules are as follows:

1. Obtain one (1) human-sized foot. No prosthetics.
2. Place foot near to fellow player.
3. Wait for signal (one leg, quivering, raised slightly above the ground) that attack is imminent.
4. Move foot sharply to one side.
5. Allow fellow player to again get near to foot.
6. Repeat, until you or fellow player is tired.*

*N.B. Fellow Player will never become tired. Ever.