My 2004 Semi-Annual Holiday Gift Guide

I'm going to let out a little secret about myself here. I love giving presents more than anything else. Except possibly a nice seared piece of ahi, especially the way they do it at AQUA with foie gras and a potato cake and a pinot noir reduction. And being with my wife. And our cats. And TiVo. So I love giving presents more than anything except those four things and all the things I forgot about that I love more than giving presents. Five things. I love recursive sentences, because I love sentences and things that are recursive, so I love recursive sentences. This year I had to help a friend out with client gifts and (naturally) suggested poker chip sets for the men. Hollywood is weird in that gift-giving around the holidays is expensive and rigidly structured - woe betide someone who inadvertently gives an exec's assistant a better gift than the exec gets. (This is a purely hypothetical woe-betiding, of course, because this has never happened in the history of the universe. Assistants get stylish but ineffective pens or cheap scented candles while execs get TiVos, trips to Burke Williams, or really expensive booze.) Gifts have to be nice and preferably somewhat trendy - the Bose noise-cancelling headphones are popular this year, as are iPods. The nice thing about the poker-chip-set-as-gift is that it's very scaleable. People at the top of the list get an aluminum-cased set of 500 13g tri-color chips (not exactly casino spec, but they feel nice), while people at the bottom get a similar (smaller) case with 300 chips that are maybe a step above Diamond 5g plastic chips. Maybe. I didn't spend a lot of time handling them, because why would I? I found a place that was offering something like 20% off orders over $100, and since we were ordering in the neighborhood of 25-30 sets, obviously we were going to qualify. I looked around and it seemed like they were offering the nicest bang for the buck and they only screwed up the order a little, shorting us ...well, okay, they shorted us around 1000 chips, one color not quite making it into the shipment, and they still haven't made it right and time is running short... but I have faith. I've got almost all my shopping done - friends and family are well taken care of at this point, except for one measly detail: I haven't the foggiest idea what to give my wife. Any ideas?

Gimme a V! Gimme an A! Gimme an R...

...and you know where this is going. Had my worst session ever the other night - -35BB in a little over an hour. -25BB at one table alone - yeah, that's right, I managed to bust out at a limit table. I was playing my game and taking the worst of it anyway. The hand that hurt the most cost 15BB. I had AsTc on the button with two limpers and raised - my table image was pretty solid at this point and usually my raises got a modicum of respect. SB folded, BB called, one limper folded, the other (who's tricky and aggressive) reraised. I'd seen this player cap with as little as K9o preflop (against weak players) so I figured my hand was best and capped it. BB and limper called - so there's 7.5 BB in the pot preflop. Flop came Ah Ts 4s. It's checked around to me and I bet; BB and tricky guy call. I figure BB has a weak ace but have no idea what tricky guy has. 9BB in the pot. Turn is 8s, a semi-ugly card to me, but even if someone's hit a flush I've got a redraw to the nut flush. Checked to me again and I bet; BB folds, but tricky guy check-raises me. I consider giving up, but then think about it a bit more. Tricky guy is usually aggressive with strong draws, and the odds are he would have bet or check-raised with a flush draw on the flop. If he's playing a four-flush semi-bluff without a pair I've got him drawing dead. The most troublesome possibility is a set, but my flush draw and two pair give me plenty of outs against most sets and enough against even pocket aces. Also there's a lot of money out there. I call. River is Jd, which is a little ugly for me, since tricky guy could easily have KQ with one club. He thinks for a long time and bets out at me. My pointer hovers over the raise button for a while before I sigh and click for the call. His cards pop up: Qc9h for the rivered gutshot. I let out some strangled cry that sets the cats' hair on end. A couple of orbits later, I've had KK lose to 78o (the ugly way, with a flopped two pair) and QQ to 33 (the same way 33 usually beats QQ) and I'm down to $9 in chips at the table. In middle position I have AKo; UTG and UTG+1 both limp, it's folded around to me and I raise. It gets raised and reraised behind me by the button and the SB; UTG calls three bets cold and UTG+1 folds. I call and imagine my pixellated self fondling his last, precious $1 chip. Flop is KT2 rainbow, and when it's checked to me I toss my last dollar in. At this point I realize I'm playing against complete idiots, since the SB folds for my dollar bet (what, you don't like getting 30-to-1 on your money?). BB and UTG call. Turn is a 6 that completes the rainbow and I figure I'm in good shape. River is a deuce, which I figure is pretty safe for me until there's an explosion of betting. After the smoke clears and the pot size doubles, BB turns over JTs, for second and bottom pair (now THERE'S a capping hand); UTG turns over T2h, full house, deuces full of tens. I curse the fates for providing me with a table I can't afford to walk away from at a time I can't stand to see another pair of hole cards. Haven't played a hand since. Taking a few days off - won't be able to play much on the road so I figure I'd better wean myself of the habit. When I get back I'll be able to load my spankin' new PC full of PokerTracker gewgaws and see if Party is all it's cracked up to be, not to mention begin bonus whoring in earnest, so a few days off while I finish up a couple of scripts and agonize over what to get my wife for Christmas seem like just the ticket.


I have a pretty good idea of when to hold 'em.

After mucking around in 7-Stud and Omaha8 for a while, I decided it was time to see if all that book-learnin' I been doin' would help me out in full-ring limit Hold'Em. Realization: doing your homework helps. Also, $2-4 games are easier to crack than $1-2 or $.50-1 for me. (I hear it gets a little tougher at $3-6, where I haven't ventured much yet.) I'm still playing a bit too tight for the game some of the time. My litmus test for table image is to raise UTG once every three or four orbits no matter what I'm holding; if you can get the (relatively loose-passive) table to fold back to you when you're holding 29o, you're probably playing too damn tight. So when that happens I've started trying to mix it up more, raising with TPNK, middling pocket pairs, or questionable draws on the flop and then trying to get to a cheap showdown. The way these tables are it usually ends up being break-even advertising for me, since I'll often win one head-up pot and lose one smallish multiway, and then I'll get action on good hands for the next few orbits. I've only had one losing session out of the last five (-25BB, spread over three tables), so variance will probably get me whipped into shape soon enough. Last night I found the ultimate calling station to my left, though - he'd cold-call a preflop raise with any two and he'd call in a three- or four-way pot with ace high or bottom pair. I never lost a pot to him and must have taken 20BB off of him with TPGK alone. I was only playing one table at the time, and only when it was getting too late for me to think straight did I realize he was sitting at two other $2-4 tables at the same time. Missed opportunity. This morning I started out horribly, losing 10BB in just over an orbit, fought my way up to +10BB, lost most of that when my nut flush draw didn't come in in a huge four-way pot, and had decided to call it a day once I made it through the next orbit. Which was coincidentally when my (minor) rush came - cowboys that held up, 68d that backdoored a gutshot straight in a smallish multiway pot, Q9 suited in my blind to start the whole thing off for a whopping pair of nines that beat the small blind's 88-with-a-busted-straight-draw. I've been thinking about my play (no PokerTracker yet), and I think one of the primary leaks in my game is my vulnerability to check-raises on the turn with an obvious draw on the board - I fold too often. Yeah, I know, what were they calling me with on the flop other than a flush draw? Lots of things, like ace-rag with a backdoor flush draw, an all-too-common holding in these games. Yeah, sometimes they've made their draw but I think I give up too easily to what may well be a semi-bluff there. Something to think about. Anyway. I did my first-ever cashout last night, which dumped enough cash into my checking account to buy my wife something nice for Christmas like, say, a Powerbook, and left enough of a bankroll behind (my original $500 buy-in) that I can continue playing comfortably at these limits. I haven't been keeping great track of my sessions (time to start!) but I'd estimate I get about 20 table-hours in every week (not counting freerolls or cheapo tournaments, at which I haven't seen much of a profit - they've been -EV for me overall), and I've been playing at that rate for about eight weeks. For roughly 160 table-hours I've made a profit of about 500BB at present limits, giving me a rate of 3.125BB/table-hour. This seems suspiciously high to me given that I'm a tight, (semi-working-toward-fully-I-think) aggressive player, and I've only been playing at the present limit for 2 of the 8 weeks; then again, I've had some great runs at PLO and Seven-Stud to go with my ground-out Hold'Em wins.

Unfit for civic duty (part the last)

So it's taken me a while to get around to writing this part. I don't know why - got most of the awful stuff out of the way in the last post. But this is the electrifying conclusion. I showed up at the courthouse in time for the final parts of jury selection. The judge had one more question before the attorneys had their way with the defendants: Did any of us have any previously unstated reason why they felt that they could not be an impartial juror in this case? So I raised my hand. And asked the judge if we could speak privately. (Didn't want my misgivings about the DOC to influence the rest of the jurors.) I told the judge that I'd been inside a prison not all that long ago, and that the treatment the defendant was due for if convicted would make it difficult for me to vote to convict. The judge asked me if I was aware that he would give instructions to the jury that they not consider punishment in their deliberations, that the jury's presence was solely to determine the facts of the case. I said yes, but that I'd have the same difficulties in a death penalty case. The judge seemed a little bit taken aback by this - that I'd equate an almost-certain lifetime of misery and torture with execution - but then agreed that the analogy wasn't absurd. The judge asked me if I'd rather serve on a civil case where this sort of thing wasn't that much of an issue. "If that's necessary," I said. I wanted the judge to understand that this wasn't just me trying to get out of jury duty. Anyway, he sent me over to the corner and kept me around until lunchtime, at which point jury selection was maybe half over, then released me, halfheartedly thanking me for my honesty. I went down to the jury pool room and waited for an hour and a half to make my discharge official; they take long lunches down at the Hall of Justice. Caught the subway home and thought about dinner, and sleeping in my own bed (hadn't got much the last night), and how grateful I am that I've never killed anyone or committed anything remotely resembling a felony. Or been arrested for one that I didn't commit. Or one that I did. Lucky, lucky, lucky.


All sit, no go

Having just bought Cloutier/McEvoy's Championship Hold 'Em, I figured I'd play a series of sit'n'go's to apply what I've learned. The general impression I had on my first read-through is that TJ & Tom had written a book designed to ensure that anyone who read it never, ever actually played a hand in a tournament, except for aces, possibly kings or queens, and once in a while ace-king (but never after a less-than-perfect flop). Which strategy the ten-minute rounds on PokerRoom renders decidedly -EV. So I had to loosen up a little bit - still, I was dutifully passing KQo and low pocket pairs in early position, even ATo once when I knew I'd be faced with a short-but-not-that-short-stack's all-in raise. What I've found is that the strategy works remarkably well against good players - not so well against the bad, lucky ones. At one table I was crippled when one guy (not even in the blind) called my good-sized, KK-inspired UTG raise with J6o, hit the flop for two pair, called my pot-sized bet on the flop, and then bizarrely checked the turn and river when no likely draws or overcards came. I guess I should be thankful he didn't bet out at me, or that my table image saved me a bet I would likely have called, but man. After the hand I chatted "J6o?" and then "wacky." and got a chorus of "lol"s. What's humbling about losing early in a SNG is that it seems you inevitably lose to someone who's playing a hand you wouldn't consider playing. My current bugbear is the "any ace" beat - people calling all-in raises and reraises with A7o, A9o, that kind of thing, when it should be obvious to anyone who's paying the least amount of attention that I'm not in there with anything they can beat - the best they can hope for is a coin flip to a low pocket pair, and there's a strong possibility that they're dominated. It takes a lot of discipline to stick to your game plan when you're continually being outflopped in these situations. But stick to it I have. And it's begun to work admirably well. The only problem I'm noticing is that I get into trouble when I'm situationally card-dead - getting marginal hands like KJo or J9s in early position, getting 92o and other junk in late position and in the blinds. But in the last 5 SNG's in which I've made it to the money, I've won 4 (and been short-stacked coming into the money in 3 of those). The only one I lost came against a guy who picked up pocket aces against my KQh, and then two hands later pocket aces again against my JJ. I feel no shame in losing to that, and I'm now very comfortable once I get down to two- or three-handed, where I used to be overly cautious. Usually the last few players in a SNG are pretty decent unless a lucky maniac has made it to the money, but even the decent players seem to get shaken up by my gear changes. One limp with a high pocket pair that makes it to showdown tends to throw off any read they might have made and from there mostly I can pound them into submission. The hold 'em cash games have handed me some pretty brutal beats in the last few days (an AA vs. KK cap-fest with a K on the river, a guy who capped against my top two pair only to spike a friggin' 3 for trips on the river), but PLO has been kind to me - hitting draws, flopping the nuts against LAGs and having it hold up. The Stud games on PokerRoom have quieted down significantly as of late so I haven't been playing them that often but they're usually good for 3-4BB an hour or more when they get going, so I keep an eye on them. All in all I'm down about $150 from my peak but still pretty optimistic. I'm a far, far better player than I was even last week, finishing much more consistently and profitably in the SNG's, and that ain't all bad.


We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming

I'll get to the exciting conclusion of my brush with the law soon enough (all the gory parts are over, anyway). So I'm playing a 5+1 tournament at Pokerroom (the only place I can play, really, until my new PC desktop arrives) - and yeah, I shouldn't be bothering with a 5+1 because of the juice and all. But. The field is close to 300 and I'm playing really well - not getting many good cards, but not having to show many hands either, feeling the flops and pushing hard on semi-bluffs. The only hand I was in trouble on was when two people moved all-in in front of me on the flop when I'd hit an open-ended straight draw and a flush draw - but I was getting like ten to one to call with the nut straight draw and second-nut flush draw, so I did. Hit my straight, more than tripled up, and was back in contention (having been hovering around 10BB for the last hour and a half, stealing blinds to stay afloat). The guy in the small blind had been sitting out for over an hour, just letting his chips get blinded off (we're at the final table now, seven of us left) - he'd lucked into a monster stack and decided to sit on it. But he'd decided to come out and play now. Blinds were at, I dunno, 3K-6K. I had a little over 75K after posting to his just-over-100K. Everyone folded to him and he limped. I had T7c and checked. The flop came 3s Th 6c. He bets the minimum into me and I raise it to 10K; he calls. Turn comes 8c, giving me top pair, an inside straight draw and a flush draw. I know that he has absolutely nothing of significance - either a stone bluff or bottom or third pair. I saw the guy play earlier, before he had the monster stack, and with anything else he would have reraised me on the flop, and he'd have folded 63 or T3 or 79 rather than even call half a bet, and with a pair or a couple of overcards he'd have raised preflop. So when he bets 10K into me on the turn I figure he's got A3, A6 or A8, and is just trying to buy the pot. So I insta-raise him another 10K just to let him know I'm serious. So naturally he reraises another 20K. Half my chips are in the pot already and I know know know I've got the best hand. I can smell the chip lead, which is exactly where I'll be if I take down the pot. I run through the outs in my head real quick and figure at best he's got five (three aces, the two of whatever pair he's got). So I push my stack in and, after a moment, he calls. His cards pop up: Ad 3h. I just have time to smile and realize that a) I had him pegged perfectly and b) two of his outs are dead (3c and Ac will give me a flush) before the river comes up - which if you've gotten this far you know just HAS to be the three of diamonds. Which it is. I followed every rule but one - the one about going broke in an unraised pot. But I had the best hand, dammit. I got the guy to put all his money in when he was nearly drawing dead. Which doesn't make me feel better about the difference between first prize and the prize I got (nearly $400), but I guess it's the price of progress.

Unfit for civic duty (part the second)

On returning to my car, I discovered that I had, in a fit of sleepiness-induced dunderheadedness, left the lights on when I'd arrived. Which meant a dead car. My cell phone wasn't very juiced either, considering the amount of the day I'd whiled away playing JAMDAT Solitaire. (Four wins, many losses. It was that kind of day. And who writes a computer solitaire program you can't cheat on, anyway?) But I managed to get AAA on the line and request assistance. I jogged down to the ramp entry and told the security guard there that a truck would be arriving, and if he could please direct the driver up to 3A that would be brilliant. Five minutes later a guy with a portable jump kit showed up from the office and got me on my way. I gave him ten bucks and called AAA back to cancel, because that's the kind of sensitive guy I am. Also the jump service had my phone number, name, AAA number and license plate, and I could do without any more tow trucks following me around looking for revenge. On the drive home I gave some thought to the judge's questions (as he'd directed us to do). I also started thinking about what I'd seen at the prison I'd visited. Conditions at California prisons are pretty bleak. But you knew that. It's prison. It's not supposed to be happy fun time rehabilitation center. But there's a big difference between having in the back of your mind the notion that prison must suck big time, and actually having been there. Here's what the defendant is probably in for, if convicted: As an alleged gang member (and whether this is proven at trial or not will make little difference to the Department of Corrections, which has a lot of latitude in how it classifies prisoners, because prisoners and rights are not two great tastes that live anywhere in the same area code as each other) who's convicted of a violent offense has a reasonable chance of ending up in a SHU (Secure Housing Unit), which in less enlightened times you might have known as The Hole. Granted, in today's modern, high-tech prisons, they are slightly cleaner, much better-lit Holes, but they're still tiny, solitary cells, which can be lit for 24 hours a day. Prisoners may get out of their cells for as much as 90 minutes a day, in which they may be able to shower or spend a little time "outside" in a roughly ten-by-ten cage. They don't get much in the way of phone calls, and nothing in the way of vocational or rehabilitation-oriented programming. Alleged gang members can and will be held in a SHU in order to prevent them from having contact with fellow gang members. Relatively "casual" gangs become a lot more intense on the inside, as you can imagine. Prisoners might be held in the SHU until either they renounce their membership in a gang (which, as you can imagine, makes them persona non grata once they get into general population) or until they agree to snitch on their gang (again, persona non grata, or even persona non viva). So getting out is problematic. The fun doesn't remotely stop there, though. As a Hispanic, the defendant is quite likely to end up on a yard in which all the Hispanics (regardless of gang affiliation) are locked down. The DOC can euphemistically refer to this as "modified program". Here's how the program is modified: Instead of being let out of your cell for vocational training, visits, yard time, etc, you're kept in your cell 24/7. You get out once every three days to shower, and you have two guards with you when you do this. At the prison I visited, the whites and Hispanics on one yard had been on "modified program" for over two years. Two. Years. So then the question becomes: can I sentence someone to this? I know that as a member of a jury my position is that of an arbiter of fact. We don't hand out the sentences, we just decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the allegation. But, as I said, there's a big difference between having the gist of what a long prison sentence means, and having seen it in ugly detail. So I had some thinking to do.


Unfit for civic duty (part the first)

So a month or so ago I got an intimidating-looking summons from the State of California inviting me to join the Justice Squad. Jury duty, baby! I've never had the pleasure before. The jury reporting system here is designed so that you don't actually have to speak to any humans before you show up - it's an automated system that requires you to call in once a day when you're "on-call" to see if they'll need you the next day. I got the all-clear on Sunday but Monday night the robot told me I had to show up at 7:45 AM Tuesday. Which is a little early to be all the way downtown or in fact anywhere except in bed, lunging toward the alarm clock with the preternatural speed of a thousand cheetahs. But there I was anyway. Let me just say at this point that I have absolutely nothing against jury duty. I'm pretty sure I won't enjoy it but it'll at least be interesting, and it's a duty. I believe that pretty strongly and I'm fond of moments where citizens have to put their money where their mouth is, societally speaking. Tuesday morning was boring - filling out a quick form and handing it in, putting on my jury badge, playing solitaire on my cell phone. I manage to dodge the first call for a jury panel but when the second comes, at about 11:30, my number is up. We're told to report back to a specific courtroom... at 1:45. Which means it's time for a loooooong lunch. I wander around downtown for a while and still show up way too early at the courtroom. Everyone has to wait outside for way too long - it's a quarter to three or so by the time they finally let us in. The judge apologizes for the wait, which is nice of him, and they proceed to call out a long series of juror numbers. I get called for the alternate section, which is a little closer to seated than I'd like to be. Especially when I find out it's an allegedly gang-related murder case with a Hispanic defendant. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about gangs and prison gangs when I worked on a prison-related documentary a couple of years back. The new system here does a decent job of protecting juror's identities, so I'm not scared. Though my wife would probably beg to differ. The next hour and a quarter is filled out with potential jurors answering general questions about background, etc - whether we've ever had a negative experience with a police officer, whether we know any gang members, and so on. I answer everything honestly and in as straightforward a fashion as possible. At four o'clock we have eliminated exactly one potential juror and break for the night. Hot courtroom action is scheduled to begin again at 10:30 AM Wednesday.