Friday, November 17, 2006

Tommy "The Gun"

I had another long wait for an open seat at Valhalla. This is turning into a regular thing. It used to be that I could show up around 1pm on Saturday and get seated within an hour. Now I'm getting there at 12:30pm and waiting 2 hours. Fall-out from the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act? Hardly. I think it's just because the weather is turning lousy and no one wants to be outdoors on the weekend.

On a crowded, busy day with close to 100 on the waiting list, the podium is the center of all attention. Layers on layers of people surround the spot, waiting for their name to be called. The ones closest in are usually near the top of the list or the most fidgety, thinking that the list won't move unless they are personally there to make sure it does.

The next layer of people hang around the tables, watching games. After I finally got a seat, I had 3 guys breathing down my neck for about an hour. I had to hunch over and use my body to block their view. I normally take my time looking at my cards, but with these bozos behind me, I could only afford a split second lift of no more than a quarter of an inch. Fortunately, the floor manager would periodically come by and sweep the lookie-loos away, but it wouldn't be long before they were replaced by others.

The next layer, the majority, is more relaxed. These people take advantage of nearby benches and chairs, the snack room and the bar to relax, read the paper, talk with buddies, or make phone calls. Strangely enough, these are the people I don't want at my table. I'd rather have the fidgety antsy types or the lookie-loos who are so desperate to gamble that they'll watch a game that they have no stake in. The people waiting out in the hall are more dangerous.

Finally, there's a layer scattered around the rest of the room, barely in earshot of the PA, and sometimes, not even able to hear the PA. These are the guys that end up getting called, 2nd called, last called, and then skipped over, only to show up 10 minutes later and demand to be put back at the top of the list. Their excuses are pretty funny; more about those later.

At the center of all these layers, running the podium, is a guy named Tommy. This guy was born for this job. On paper, it doesn't look like much of a job: run the board, update the lists, make announcements on the PA and take names. That's it, all day long. Easy, right? Don't you believe it. I think most people reading this would be wrecked after just one day on this job.

Think about it. On a busy day, you've got 100+ people, some of them crazy gamblers, some of them drunk, some of them not too stable to begin with, forced to wait, and wait, and wait. This does not make for happy people. Most of the time, Tommy has to deal people who are screaming mad, yelling, even throwing things.

But like I said, Tommy was born for this job. First of all, he looks like a gangster. Slick black hair, scarred face, squinty cold steel-blue eyes, and a cool that could make a cuke look sweaty. Just give him a pair of black shades and a 9mm to holster under his coat, and he'd pass for any goodfella you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. Second of all, he's big. The podium at Valhalla is raised above the floor. That means Tommy looks down on everyone. It's damn intimidating looking up at him looming up there. Third, he's heard it all before. He's been doing this job for over 8 years, and in all those 8 years he's heard it all and seen it all. Nothing throws him off his cool.

He doesn't even laugh when the desperate make their pathetic excuses. One day, when my name was near the top of the list, I moved up to the layer closest to the podium and just listened. I got to hear some of the excuses people come up with to get moved up the list or, if they were skipped, to be put at the top of the list ahead of everyone else. There's the usual, "I was in the bathroom/bar/restaurant," type excuses, of course, but the more interesting ones were these:

Kid: I left my ID in my gym locker at school and I had to go get it.
Tommy: When were you born?
Kid: What?
Tommy: When ... were ... you ... born?
Kid: Uh, 1960 ... no, I mean, 1969 ...
Tommy: Get out of here, kid.

Joe: Hey, did you call me? Where's my name? I'm "Joe".
Tommy: I called Joe 10 minutes ago.
Joe: Well, put me back at the top of the list, man! I didn't hear it.
Tommy puts "Joe" at the end of the list.
Joe: Hey! I said put me at the top! What's the deal?
Tommy: Nice try pal, but I see "Joe" sitting at table 23 right there, ain't that right Joe? [The real original Joe waves at Tommy and smiles.] This exact same scam happens with "Chin", "Bob", "Lee", "JC", etc., etc. Moral of the story, come up with a unique name or set of initials, because people will try to hijack your name if they can get away with it.

Tex: Howdy, pardner. What's it gonna take to get ol' Tex at the top of the list? (Tex discretely shows a $100 bill)
Tommy: A helluva lot more than that (deadpan, no smile).
Tex: (frowning and turning red now) Listen here, boy. You don't know who yer dealin' with. I can buy this place three times over.
Tommy: Sir, there is open seating at the $100/$200 table. I'm sure that game would be more to your liking than $3/$6.

I don't know why people get all up in Tommy's face. That's obviously not the best way to work the list. A much better way was shown to me by Violet. She was right behind me in line waiting to sign up. I put my name in, moved aside and let Violet in.

Tommy recognized her right away and said, "Hullo, Violet. How are you today?

Violet, "I'm just fine, handsome. How are you?" As she said this, she offered Tommy a $5 chip.

Tommy knocked it on the podium twice, smiled (first time I ever saw him do that), and said, "Thank you very much! What are you playing today?"

Violet put in her name on a couple of lists then went to read the paper in the hall. Later, when her name was called, I noticed Tommy spent more than his usual 5 seconds waiting for a reply, called her name 5 times instead of his usual 3, and then went around the podium and checked the hall to see if she was still there. She was actually just coming out of the ladies room. He waived to her, she waived back, and Tommy had a floor manager escort her to her table.

You see, Tex got it all wrong. The security cameras would see a $100 bill as a bribe and Tommy would probably get fired. But a $5 chip is just a tip, right?

From that day on I've been sure to give Tommy a chip or two for a tip. I've never had a problem with getting a seat since, even when some joker tried to grab my seat from me by impersonating me, Tommy backed me up.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Professor Hector, PhD of Trash Talk

Heard at the Valhalla poker room, at the $4/$8 Limit Omaha High/Low half kill table:

Hector (BB, kill pot): "I raise with crap. Give up, you are beat! Here, look!" He exposed a Jack of clubs and a Deuce of diamonds.
Button: "You know I'm going to call you ... "
Hector: "Call? You better cap it or I'll call you chickensh*t."
The SB, who had yet to act, called the Button's preflop raise. An EP caller obliged and capped it. The Button, SB, and BB called. The flop came down 9s 8c 7s.
EP: "Oh, now I'm good."
Hector: "Bullsh*t!" He bet after the SB checked. "Raise it up and give me some cover!"
EP: "Okay." He raised. The Button called. The SB folded.
Hector: "You don't got sh*t." He made it 3 bets. "Cap it! Cap it! Cap it! Aww, #$#(*#$*@!" EP and Button called. The turn came 9s 8c 7s 7d.
Hector: "Dealer, who told you to pair the board? You aren't getting a tip from me."
Button: (softly, to the CO) "You aren't tipping him because you aren't going to win this pot."
Everyone checked. The river came 9s 8c 7s 7d 5d. SB checked.
Hector: "Is there a low? Sh*t, now I can't scoop." He bet, EP raised.
Hector: "Oh, now you grow some balls, huh? F*cking Ace-Deuce! I had you beat." Button folded, SB folded. "I call so you can show your f*cking, pardon my language, Ace-Deuce."

EP showed Ad Ks 3d 2h for the nut low. Hector showed Jc 8h 3c 2d for two-pair with Jack kicker, good enough to win the high.

Hector: "I told you my crap would win! No tip for you, dealer, for pairing the board instead of dealing a ten!"

I had been wanting to try the Limit Omaha High/Low game at Valhalla but three things had prevented me up until now:

  1. It was $4/$8 with a half kill to $6/$12, a bit above my usual bankroll.
  2. There was only ever one table open and it was usually packed with regulars who could outplay circles around me.
  3. The game loves to break my heart.

Even though LO/8 hates me, I don't hate it. In fact, I love the game. We have a love/hate relationship. Her siren call was drawing me in. I was way up from a good run in limit Hold'em and had the bankroll to play $6/$12. There was a long wait for my usual $3/$6 LHE game, so I thought, now is as good a time as any. Less than five minutes later I was seated at the Omaha table.

The table was unusually loud and animated. Whenever I've checked it out before from the rail, it resembled a graveyard in a rock quarry. Professor Hector, in Seat 2, was the loudest of them all. He was playing every single hand and always for a raise. When he was UTG he'd put in a live straddle. When he had a kill button he'd raise out of turn. If you were in the hand with him, you had better be prepared for a constant barrage of trash talk. I'm not sure why the regulars called him "The Professor," but he sure had a Ph.D. in trash talking.

Dollar signs started appearing before my eyes. The ideal situation for a conservative Omaha player like me is a crazy-loose table. All I had to do was wait for a monster flop with a monster starter and I was going to make $200+ in a single hand. I'd have to do my best imitation of a factory worker in a linen factory and fold, fold, fold, but the payoff was going to be gimungus.

Meanwhile, I had plenty to entertain me.

Another exchange:

As usual, Hector had made sure that preflop was capped. Three players saw the flop of Tc 9c 8c.
Hector (SB): "Oh sh*t! I already have a straight!" He exposed Qc Jh and bet. The other two players called. The turn made it Tc 9c 8c 6h.
Hector: "Dealer, no more low cards." He bet, the other two called. "C'mon, you pussies! Raise it up! I only have a straight!" The river came Tc 9c 8c 6h 4c.
Hector: "M#*$#$*f#$#. You're fired!" He bet, the next player called, the third raised.
Hector: "Ace-Deuce, Ace-Deuce! Everyone has Ace-Deuce!" Hector reraised to 3 bets, putting him all-in. "Cap it, don't just call, or I'll call you chickensh*t!" The middle guy called, the raiser called. As soon as the last player called ...
Hector: "Everyone can see I have a straight." Hector did not show his other cards yet. The middle player showed A3 for low. The raiser, with a big smile on his face, showed Jc 2c for Jack high flush.
Dealer: (To Hector) Do you have a low?
Hector: "Of course I have a low! I have the nuts!" Hector turned over his other two cards, 4s and ... Ac.
Everyone was shaking their heads at the dumb joke, since his low was counterfeited. The player with the Jack high flush was laughing it up with the low winner. Nobody saw what the dealer saw, until he pushed half the pot to Hector.
Jack Flush Player: Hey! I won the high.
Dealer: No, I'm sorry. Hector has the nut flush.

Sure enough, all that slight of hand exposing the QJo and having a straight made us all forget that the Ac gave Hector the nut flush, since the Queen was the Qc. He had totally slow rolled the nuts.

Hector did a little victory dance and said: "Ha ha! My balls are too big for you!"

Low hand winner: "Oh yeah, let's see them. I'll give you all the money in front of me if you drop your pants." Hector turned around and showed his butt crack. "Nice. Let's see what you got in front. I bet it's tiny. I'll need a microscope."

Hector continued to trash talk, slow roll, and LAG his way into every pot. Nobody wanted to report his foul language or slow-rolling, which would normally earn at least a warning. We wanted him to stay at the table. If that meant listening to all that noise, no problem.

How did I do? I only played one hand. Hector got up to take a piss and I was able to limp into a pot from the Button without having to worry about paying 4 bets. The flop came down Th 4h 4d, everyone checked. The turn made it Th 4h 4d Jh. Everyone checked again. The river made it Th 4h 4d Jh 4s. Checked to me, I said, "Well, if no one wants this pot," I bet $8. All the rocks shook their heads, knowingly folding their hands, muttering, "You flopped a full house." I got one caller that threw the chips right in front of me and said, "Show it to me."

So I did, Ac Ad 8c 2s. Not exactly flopped, but good enough to scoop the pot.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Too Late

Congress slipped a version of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act into a must-pass Ports Security bill on 9/30/2006. The law makes it a felony to accept any kind of electronic funds or even paper checks for bets or wagers while gambling unlawfully. Whatever that means.

The stupidity of the whole thing puts me on tilt.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Stop The Insanity! Save Online Poker!

I thought I had given up political ranting long ago, when age and cynicism had settled in, but I find that the machinations of the US House of Representatives has rekindled my activist spirit. Nothing like a threat to my central avocation to awaken the ranter in me.

There are now two threats to online poker in the US: HR 4411, which has already passed the House, and HR 4777, which has just been sent up from committee to the full House for consideration. We dodged a bullet when the last Senate session closed without considering the Senate equivalent of 4411. That means that 4411 is hanging fire and can be voted on in the Senate at any time. Meanwhile 4777 has popped out of committee limbo-land and has been put on the congressional calendar for debate.

So what are these bills all about? You can find the full text of each by following the links above. A plain English analysis HR 4411 is available at the PPA. I won't get into the details here, but I will highlight what I think is so wrong about both of these bills.

HR 4411, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, proposes to update the Wire Act so that transfer of electronic funds is prohibited if the funds are to be used for gambling.

The first problem is that the definition of "gambling" is both too vague and too specific. The vague part has to do with games of chance. Is poker included? The text of the bill says: "...staking or risking by any person of something of value upon the outcome of a contest of others, a sporting event, or a game predominantly subject to chance, upon an agreement or understanding that the person or another person will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome ..." There is chance involved in poker, but is it predominantly chance? I don't think so. The too specific part has to do with exceptions for online lotteries, horse races, and fantasy sports. Huh?!? Why do those specific items get loopholes? Can you say lobbying?

The second problem is Constitutional. HR 4411 prohibits web sites from linking to gambling sites. This prohibition probably oversteps First Amendment rights. It can at least be argued as unconstitutional on that basis.

The third and to me most important problem with HR 4411 is that the bill will not only fail to achieve its purported goal, it will actually make things worse. The purported goal is to protect people from losing money to shifty offshore crooks. These crooks are unregulated by the US government and by definition must be evil. The government contends that unregulated sites will take deposits from US citizens and then disappear, making off with all the funds. Also, the government contends that innocent children and babies are enticed by shifty operators to use Dad's credit card to play roulette, possibly bankrupting little Johnny's family.

I'll take on the protection against crooks argument first. While there is no denying that theft, fraud and embezzlement happens in online poker, the proposed cure is worse than the disease. Making electronic funds transfer illegal simply sends the industry underground. Instead of relying on legitimate and regulated financial institutions to handle funds transfer, gamblers will be forced to use unregulated, offshore entities. Shady characters will be attracted to all this money looking for a way to get to and other sites. Theft and fraud will mushroom. Innocent victims will have no protection and no recourse, since no one will take complaints to a US authority if it means admitting to a crime. If this bill is enacted, the net result will be that more innocent people will lose their money to criminals than if the law had never been past.

The other argument, protecting kids, is out of proportion to reality. Like kids aren't already using their parents credit cards to get online porn, or buy bootleg software and music? Johnny's family is more likely to go broke from Johnny paying off get-rich-quick schemers and pay-to-play video game sites than from online gambling. This law won't stop kids from breaking the law, it will just give them more to break.

HR 4477 is similar to HR 4411 (some of the language of 4777 was incorporated into 4411). 4777 targets any information that enables gambling, not just electronic funds. 4777 has even more Constitutional problems and runs afoul of the First Amendment to an even greater extent.

So that's my rant. Things look pretty grim. Online poker in the US is hanging by a thread and Congress has a big pair of scissors. I've never been politically active in any cause before this, but I'm going to dive into this one. I plan on joining the Poker Player's Alliance and participating in all of their letter and phone campaigns. I urge you to do the same.

Learn more about the PPA at

Some of you might be ticked off that far more important issues like the war in Iraq, global warming, gay marriage, and other far reaching and much more serious attacks on life and liberty did not move me, but threats to online poker have. I realize that in the grand scheme of things, the future of online poker is a small issue. So, sue me. Maybe you think my priorities are screwed up; whatever, dude.