Monday, July 06, 2015

My WSOP Main Event Experience

Nothing stings like the bitter disappointment of being eliminated from the WSOP Main Event. There will be somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000 people entering this tournament, and in the end, only one will be truly happy when it's all over. Getting knocked out is a miserable feeling. However, I am going to try to overcome my disappointment, as I describe my experience, which was pretty incredible. I hope the fact that I'm writing this after about 5 hours of sleep following my elimination, which happened with 20 minutes left on Day 1 does not color my description of the truly amazing nature of this experience.

I arrived in Las Vegas on Saturday afternoon after a weeklong vacation with my family in Los Angeles, a trip that was intentionally designed to get me acclimated to the Pacific time zone in advance of the World Series. Upon arrival, I decided to play one four hour 2-5 cash session to get my feet wet, but first I registered for the tournament and received my table and seat assignment.

With my registration card in hand, I walked down the hall to the main WSOP area to see if there were any final tables in progress. The public has complete access to all of the events, and anyone can walk in and watch the televised final table, as long as there is enough room. I happened to wander in just as Anthony Spinella was posing for his bracelet photos for winning the WSOP event #64, for which he received $197,743.

Watching this photo shoot was inspirational. There was a raucous crowd cheering, and everyone was caught up in the excitement. I walked back to the cash section, where the no limit blinds ranged form 1-3 to the sky, with high stakes tables featuring several famous players with stacks containing tens of thousands of dollars. I bought into a 2-5 game for $500 and planned on playing only 4 hours. My first hand was dealt as I was still getting settled into my seat and the chip runner had not yet returned with my chips. The player to my left asked if I wanted to borrow a stack of 20 reds ($100) to play until I had my own chips, and I said, "Well let me look at my hand first because I might just throw it away". I looked down at two black aces and said, "I think I will play this one" in as casual a voice as I could muster. I'm not superstitious in the least, but at that moment, caught up in all the excitement of the WSOP, I felt that getting dealt pocket aces on my very first hand in Las Vegas had to be a good omen!

I raised to 20 and got 3 callers. Flop was low cards and my bet took it down. Cash play was pretty wild, as I remembered from last year and after a roller coaster session, I was up a few hundred and kept to my plan, leaving the poker room and grabbing some dinner at the Chinese dim sum place in the Rio.

After dinner, I wandered down the halls of the WSOP and decided to check out the Brazilia room where I would be playing the next day. I found the great hall completely empty and walked over to table 48. I sat down in seat 4 and took in the room. This is where it would happen. It felt like a scene from any sports movie where the athlete walks into the stadium the night before, a spotlight shines on him, and he imagines the crowd cheering. I was definitely caught up in the emotion of it.

As it was July 4, I then went outside and caught the fireworks at the strip. The Rio provides a great view, and I saw three simultaneous fireworks shows across the Las Vegas Strip.

I woke up at 4:48 a.m. on my Day 1 and was too wired to sleep anymore. Not good! I did some work on my computer until the gym opened at 6:00, and then had a good workout. Around 8 a.m. my buddy Larry Reznik started texting me inspirational messages, and I got several phone calls wishing me luck. I had set up an email list of friends who requested updates, and my virtual rail was very active in support. I got this! I can't remember ever being that pumped up for anything.

At 11:45, I met Cousin Kenny outside of the Brazilia room. His table was about 5 tables over from me, and he was just as excited as I was. It was his 8th Main Event and my first, but it seems the excitement is the same each time. As I took my seat, there was some announcements, a few short speeches, and the obligatory "Shuffle Up and Deal" announcement, and the first hand was dealt.

Playing at the Main Event is like no other tournament. At each seat is a small photo card, giving you a code where you can find yourself in the media coverage. Reporters are walking around with notebooks documenting the action, and TV camera crews are everywhere, stopping to film a hand at this table or that, with an extended microphone held out over the table. The Italian media seemed obsessed with the player in seat 1 at my table, and several people stopped by to get his autograph. I wasn't sure if he was a poker pro or some other type of celebrity. He played very well and super aggressively, so I was leaning towards "pro", but he ended up going out in flames, tilting like crazy and making some nutty plays, so maybe he's an actor who plays a lot of poker.

Level 1, blinds 50-100, stack 30,000

For weeks leading up to the Main Event, I mapped out strategies, and took advice from just about everyone. The plan was to go slow and steady. It's a marathon, not a sprint. My basic game plan was to keep my phone off, observe everything, and get as good a read on each players as I could. Focus, focus, focus. I would play tight and smug and not put a lot of chips at risk. Play small ball. Don't get married to a big pair. Let the game come to me. But once the cards were in the air, this all went out the window. 

I played my game. I noticed the guy to my right liked to raise a lot of unopened pots in late position, so I started 3 betting him, and he folded. When I had KQs on the button, an early position loose player raised and got two callers. I called. The flop gave me a gut shot and a flush draw. The original raiser put in a 1/2 pot bet and got one caller. I thought I could probably take this down with a big bet, a semi-bluff squeeze. Besides my big draws, my K or Q might even be good if I hit them. So much for small ball. If I am to follow the game plan, I just call here, but a raise seemed like a much better play. I came here to play poker not to be a wuss! So, I put in a big raise and took down a nice pot. 

I found I couldn't do it. I couldn't play survival poker, and aggression works well, until it doesn't. At the end of the two hours, I had increased my stack size by 30% and reached my end of day goal - although there was still a lot of poker to play. I felt really good and confident. The only concern was that the two really weak players at the table, who had contributed to my good fortune quite a bit, were on life support, and they were probably not going to be around much longer to donate chips to me.

Level 2, blinds 100-200, stack 39,950

As expected, the two weakest players at the table were eliminated early in this round. The Italian pro/actor became super aggressive and had built up a big chip stack. I decided to play a low variance game and stay out of his way, and I folded a lot of marginal to decent hands. Although I had played aggressively on level 1, I still believed small ball was a good idea at this point, and I thought I could coast for a while on the nice chip stack I had and play premium hands for a while. This would also help create a tight image that I could exploit later. 

(For most of the hands I'll describe, stacks were so deep that stack sizes really did not come into play,  and anyway, in most cases, I don't remember the exact stack sizes, so I'll leave these out of the hand descriptions.)

I had AJ in the small blind, and a tight player in middle position raised 3 big blinds. It folded to me, and I folded. Some might consider that a tight play, but I'm happy with it. I might even fold in position here, and out of position, it's a no brainer. If an A comes on the flop, and he bets, I'll be in a tough spot. I'm also not thrilled with a J high flop. If it was a loose player who opened, I could raise or call, but given this player, and what I had seen from him, I'm perfectly happy with that fold. I also folded AQ pre-flop twice in early position. So, I guess I wasn't ignoring my plan completely. Playing tighter than usual.

An early position weak player limped and got 3 callers. I was in the cutoff with A7s in hearts. I called and the BB called. Multi-way to the flop. The flop came with medium cards and 1 heart. Checked around. The turn brought the K of hearts. BB bets 1/2 pot and folds to me. I raise 3x the bet, and he calls. The river is the 6 of hearts, giving me the nut flush and the absolute nuts on an unpaired board. He puts out a small bet, about 1/4 pot. Now I have to decide how to get value. I think most likely he has a K because I don't see the first to act stabbing at a pot with 3 other players in the hand when a K comes unless he has it. I don't think he has a smaller flush because of the small bet size. The small bet indicates to me that he has a hand with some value and he wants a cheap showdown. So, that would mean I should raise on the smallish side. However, I prefer to raise on the larger side both for my bluffs and my nut hands to keep my range balanced and because when I get called I get paid more. So, I raised a bit over the pot (including his bet in the pot). He tanked and then open folded two pair. Ugh! I guess a slightly smaller bet might have been called. Incidentally, he played it awful. His two pair was T2, and he flopped it and tried to slow play it. Ended up costing him.

I only played 5 or 6 hands on this entire level. I was mostly card dead, and when I raised, I got 3 bet a couple of times and had to fold. My stack ranged from 31k to 48k during this level because the pots I was involved with were rather large, and the swings were significant.  The table got a lot tougher once the two weak players were replaced by pros. The rest of the day was much more challenging.

Level 3, blinds 150-300, stack 38,650

I was excited to play the third level of the day, leading up to the dinner break. I felt that I was in the zone and playing the best I've ever played. I had not made any mistakes that I could think of, and I had made some good lay downs as well as good calls, so things were on track. Inside I was asking myself if this was really happening. Am I really playing in the WSOP Main Event with a bigger than average stack, holding my own? In what other sport is this possible? A child growing up obsessed with basketball is as likely to make it into the NBA as to be struck by lighting several times in the same year. His chances of playing in the NBA finals in his life are even smaller. And yet, anyone can play in the WSOP Main Event, and if they are halfway decent at poker, they have a shot. That's what's so exciting about it. At the same table we had an old guy who did not realize that you don't have to call every hand and that there is such a thing as raising, and two seats over a pro who had cashed 3 times in the last 5 years at the main event. The guy to my left was a regular 10-20 NLHE player at the Commerce casino and made day 4 of the Main last year, and the guy to my immediate right had never heard of pot odds. Some of the best and the worst players I've ever seen - at the same table. Crazy!

I managed to get to this stage of the tournament without any real premium hands, except for an AK that I had to muck on the flop. So finally, I picked up KK under the gun. Small ball. Small ball, I said to myself. Don't go broke on this hand. Don't get married to a big pair. Danger alarms were going off in my head. I was determined not to lose a big pot with this hand. In a way, I felt that in this marathon tournament and these super deep stacks that I was better off without big pairs. But, I only know one way to play KK under the gun, so I raised to 800, the same raise I had made on other hands at this level. Then alarm bells went off. Literally. Not just in my head. The fire alarm at the Rio started ringing. I was worried we would have to evacuate in the middle of the hand. But, the PA announcer came on and said it was a false alarm. The dealer told us that sometimes players get upset when they are eliminated and they pull the fire alarm. Wow. I hadn't experience that since high school.

Anyway, back to the hand, which was played with wailing sirens in the background, as if the action wasn't dramatic enough. A super loose player calls my 800. Even looser player, very aggressive, and table chip leader raises to 2,000. Small ball. I'm thinking that at this stage of the main event, I don't want to put a significant fraction of my chips into play. Period. If I make it 5k and one of them raises to 15k, can I continue with the hand on level 3 of the main event with an above average stack to start the hand and 126 big blinds? So, I call, and the other player calls too. If an A comes on the flop, I will continuation bet and then fold to any raise. If a Q comes on the flop, I might do the same. It's a scary spot under these circumstances, and I felt my heart rate jump. The flop came as beautiful as a flop can be. Seriously, I didn't think it was possible for a human being to fall in love with a flop, but I was wrong. I was madly in love (sorry Ann). The flop was 7K4 rainbow. Oh, how I love thee, flop!

Now, I'm seriously hoping that one of them has AA or AK. Obviously, there is no turn card that I'm afraid of, and it's possible the K might scare someone with JJ or QQ, so I check, hoping one of them will bet, at which point I will just call. But it checks around. Ugh! The turn card is a 5 putting a flush draw out there. A couple of straight draw got there, but there's no way I'm putting either of them on that. So, now it's time to bet. I make it 4,000 and the first player folds, but the second player calls. The turn card is a very pretty 2 that completes the rainbow. I now have the near nuts, and if he's playing 68 or 36 will, then it's time for me to lose a lot of chips. 

Again I'm faced with a raise sizing dilemma. Last time I had the nuts, I value bet big, and the guy folded. I really want a call this time. So, I have to figure out what his range is here and how big a bet I can get the top of his range to call. The only two hands that make any sense to me are QQ or JJ, possibly TT. If he has AQ, he would not have called the turn bet. I don't think he raises pre flop like that with KQ, but it's possible if he was suited, since he was loose and aggressive and with a big stack. But, if he was squeezing, I would think he would bet bigger. He only raise to 2k from 800. That does not smell like a squeeze, it smells like a value raise. Okay, so if he has one of those medium pairs, how much would he call on the river? The pot has a bit over 14,000. I bet 7,000. He declares that he put me on AK the whole way and open folds QQ. Oh well. I don't think I could have gotten more out of him if I played it any other way. 

I had lost a few pots before that hand, but that brought me up over 40k at the end of the level. I went to the dinner break feeling great about my game and my luck so far, and I had a nice dinner with Cousin Kenny, his wife Laurie, and my buddy Brian Sims who happened to just arrive in Vegas for a few days just in time to join us for dinner. 

Level 4, blinds 150-300-25, stack 41,350

This level is really what did me in. Brian came back with us from dinner and railed me. My seat was right by the rail, so he could see the action. For the first 40 minutes I don't think I saw a card above a 7, and Brian got to watch me fold every single hand. Literally. I did not enter one single pot. VPIP was 0, for those of you who play online with a HUD. Finally, I pick up AK and raise. The very strong player to my left calls. The flop comes with an A, and I bet it. He calls. The turn is a brick, and I bet it. He calls. The river is a Q. No flushes or realistic straight draws. I check because I can't imagine him calling a third bet with something worse than top pair top kicker. He bets out 8,000. This is a very big bet. Did he really float me for two streets and then bluff the river? Sure seems like it. Why so much? I thought back to my value betting strategy, and it seems he could be betting a set for value here. My instinct told me to fold, but my actual mouth said "call", and he turned over AQ for a rivered two pair. That took a bite out of my stack. At that point, I was down to 27k.

I felt nauseous. I had played so well the whole day and maintained a great stack and just like that, I was below a starting stack for the first time. However, the next 15 minutes were a blur. I picked up KK and won a nice pot. Then I had 44, called a bet, checked down to the river and hit a 4. Made a bet, got called and own another nice pot. In no time I was back at 38k and feeling good. And then it happened again. Almost identical. Loose bad player raises, and I call with AJ out of position. Note the difference from the earlier AJ hand that I folded in that this was a loose bad player who entered a lot of pots. The flop came AK6. I checked to the raiser and he checked back. That's a good sign. Turn was an 8, and I lead out with a 1/2 pot bet, and he calls. River is a 5. I check and he bets out the pot. Going back through the hand and the betting I thought there was a good chance he had a K in his hand or a weak A. He checked the flop back for pot control, but he was strong enough to call the turn. Maybe he even had a hand with an 8 in it like 89s and didn't believe I had any piece of the flop. So why is he betting so much on the river? Set of 5s? I don't think he calls the turn with 55. Did he slow play a monster the whole way? I'm baffled, and I can't put him on a hand. Obviously, I didn't think it through because after I called, he turned over A5, which fits the betting pretty well. That hand hurt.

Over the next half hour, I couldn't seem to win anything. My stack was such that I was afraid to get too involved in pots, and the table was 3 betting a lot and even 4 betting, so there were no cheap flops. As we went to break, I had a bad feeling. During the break, Cousin Kenny advised me that it is worth it to try to make Day 2. If I fold every hand, I'd make it to Day 2 with about 15k in chips. That's not reasonable. But perhaps I can win a few pots here and there and keep my chip stack steady. If I can get to Day 2 with over 25k, then I start with 50 big blinds, and I can play with that. After all, Kenny pointed out that 6 of the last 10 winners had less than 30k to start Day 2. That's encouraging. Of course they also had mad skills and tons of luck. At least there was a chance I could get lucky!

Level 5, blinds 200-400-50, stack 26,550

I got off to a good start on this level. I won a few pots uncontested, and each time I took down the blinds and antes, I earned myself another round. I had conflicting goals, and I wasn't sure how I was going to resolve them if push came to shove (literally). I wanted to make Day 2 very very badly. If I made day 2, I would get to bag chips at the end of the day, and then Day 2 is in the famous Amazon room. I would have a new table and a new celebrity "Shuffle Up and Deal". I could anticipate playing in the Main Event for 2 days that I would have off. I cannot stress how badly I wanted to make Day 2. But at the same time, I wanted to play correct poker. I wanted to optimize my chances of cashing and going deep. If I fold most of my hands and take down a few uncontested unopened pots, I'm there pretty easily. But what do I do if I get a big hand and my tournament life is at stake? I wasn't sure myself how I would handle that. Pretty soon, I got my answer.

After my initial run of good cards in the first 15 minutes of this level, I went card dead, and I basically folded everything for about an hour. I was down to 23k and miserable. The table was getting even more aggressive, and some players busted out and big stacks moved in. These guys were pros. I could just tell. Nothing was going my way. So, sure enough, I picked up AA in middle position in an unopened pot. I told myself that this could be it. Win a small pot, lose a big pot. That's what aces are known for. But when you are struggling to stay above water, AA is a god send. I wasn't about to miss a chance to get back to a healthy stack. I should also add that I was in no way supposed to be desperate right now. I had almost 60 big blinds. That's enough to play some real poker for a while, and with this slow structure, even the next level on Day 2, which was going to be 250-500-50 was not too bad, and if I got here with 20k, I'd have 40 bigs, more than enough to have reason for hope.

So, I raised to 1,100, which was the going rate. Since I hadn't played a hand in an hour, I figured they might all just fold, but the big blind defended. He's the same guy from the A5 hand earlier, and I had confirmed my read of him multiple times, that he was a very weak player. I had to like my chances now. A double up would pretty much save me, and I was hoping he would have a nice second-best hand. The flop came JQK with a flush draw. That is about as ugly a flop as you can get in this spot. He checked to me. Since I put him on just about any two cards, I figured there was a good chance he missed this completely, in which case he'll fold to a bet. But there is also a chance he's trapping with two pair. I checked back since I wasn't sure there was any value to betting, and if he had a hand like J8 or Q7, he might call a bet later, but would fold to a bet on the flop. As ugly as the flop was, the turn was gorgeous. A non-flush T. Now I had the current nuts. Only worry is if also has an A. I bet 3/4 pot and he called. Hmm, we may be chopping this. The river is another T. He checks again (okay, I guess we're not chopping?!?). I can't put him on a full house based on his passive line, so I bet the pot, and he calls and turns over A9. I don't know off hand how often A9 chops with AA, but it can't be very often. That sucks.

Maybe I was tilted from that non-double up chop, or maybe I was tired, or maybe I ended up making the right play. I'm sure I'll be thinking about it a lot over the next few months, but two hands later this hand played out. The same guy from the A9 and A5 opened for 1,100. The bluffiest, wildest, most active player at my table, one who had shown down pretty big bluffs on the river (e.g. 83 after popping 3 streets and getting called all the way by the nuts against another player) reraised to 3,200. I looked down at QQ in the big blind. Okay, so now I'm really put to the test. The question is, am I playing this tournament to limp into Day 2, or am I playing poker? Putting that aside, what ranges to I assign to these guys. I would say the first raiser has a top 30% hand and will probably fold. The re-raiser knows this, and he's been stealing a lot, and so I assign him a very wide range as well. My QQ has to be in pretty good shape here, but if I'm wrong, I'm probably going broke and leaving the tournament. At this point in time, there were about 20 minutes left in Day 1. At the 10 minute mark, the tournament goes off the clock and each table plays 5 hands, to prevent people who are trying to make Day 2 from stalling. I knew about this, and I was well aware the whole level that if I took my time with every decision and every non-decision, that I would increase my chances of moving on, but that's just not how you play poker. I hate it when other people exploit these kinds of things and mess up the game for everyone else, and I wasn't going to do it myself, so I kept the game pace moving and insta folded most of my hands pre-flop.

So, back to the hand. Do I raise, call or fold? If I fold, then I'm clearly deciding that I want to get to Day 2 at all costs and nothing else matters. That's out. Sorry, but that's not why I came to Vegas and spent the last 3 months planning for my Main Event. I might do that to make the cash or to make the final table, but I'm not playing that way to make Day 2. Okay, so that was easy, now I'm down to two choices. I'm going to assume that the original raiser is going to fold regardless. So, I'll focus on the other player. If I raise and he was making a move, then he will fold, and I'll take down a nice pot. Not a bad result. But if I raise and he has me dominated with KK or AA, then I'm dead. He may also have AK. I decide to call and see if an A or a K flops. If so, maybe I can get away from the hand and survive. So, I just call, and the other player folds. The flop is 863. The pot has about 7,500 in it, and my stack is at around 20k. If I check and he bets, I will have to call. If I bet, he'll call with several hands that I am beating like 99-JJ, and he'll fold AK. If has has AA or KK, I think I'm going to lose all my chips any way it plays out. In hindsight, this morning, I think checking might have been a better play, as he would surely bet with AK but will fold it if I bet. But, at the time, I bet out 5,000. He insta shoved putting me all in. Now I had 15k left in my stack and no real decision to make. I called, and he turned over AA. And my Main Event was over with 20 minutes left on Day 1. It's a pretty sick feeling.

Looking back on my Main Event, I don't have too many regrets. I could have played a few hands differently, but for every one that I could have played better, there is one where I might have played worse. Bottom line is that as you get deeper into the tournament, the skill level goes up pretty fast. The bad players go out, and you have to be sharp and focused and catch the right cards. I had a hell of a run, both leading up to this, with all the anticipation, and I feel fortunate to have had a good first half of the day where I got to feel like things were really clicking. It was a serious rush. So, no, I won't end up with 20 friends railing me at the final table or with an ESPN special, but a small Jewish kid from Nashville who started playing poker in his mid 30s just competed with the best players in the world on the biggest stage, in the world championship. That can only happen in poker, and it's one of the reasons I love this game so much.

Friday, July 03, 2015

A short video explaining how to make online poker more secure

As I've posted here before, I've been working on a system to make online poker more secure. Here is a short video that explains in simple and hopefully entertaining form how this works. (Best to view this full screen to see the details of the hand examples.) I've also created a project page here. Please share this with anyone you think would be interested.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

An interesting poker hand with a big draw

One thing I enjoy as much as playing poker, if not more, is performing post-mortem analysis on my game and analysing hands away from the table. I think that it’s crucial to do this if you want to improve your game. Yesterday I played 2-5 at the Horseshoe, and here is a discussion of my most interesting hand.

The Villain, V, is to my immediate right. Super aggressive and has been caught bluffing a few times in the last couple of orbits. In the 10 minutes I’ve been at the table, his stack went from over $3k to about $950. My image is pretty tight, as I’ve been completely card dead. I recently folded to a 4 bet after I 3 bet with TT on a 783 board. I didn’t show my cards, but it was clear that I made a big laydown, and V was paying attention. Table is very active with lots of raises and 3 bets pre-flop.

I have about $950, same as V.

EP raise to $20, and 2 callers, including V. I have 89 and call.

Flop: 586

Check, check, V bets $45

I think he is leading out here with an extremely wide range. Overpair is unlikely because he would have raised pre-flop. I have top pair and a straight-flush draw, which has to be way ahead of his range. I think he might re-raise me light if I raise, which is exactly what I want. I haven’t seen him bet and fold to a raise, and he’s been involved in many pots. He’s trying to bully the table.

I raise to $125. Fold, fold, and V re-raises to $350.

Okay, I guess this is what I expected, but I need to examine his range more carefully

Overpair: I think this is unlikely, but I need to reconsider it with this raise. If he has an TT-AA, then I have 9 flush outs, 3 straight outs (not double counting 7d), two 8s and three 9s. That’s 17 outs with two cards to come. So, I’m actually way ahead, and I should shove so that I see 2 cards if he calls. If he has 99, then that kills 3 of my outs, but it’s still a shove.

Set: If he has a set, then I have 12 outs, and I have to avoid the board pairing, unless I hit the 7. I definitely need to see both the turn and the river, so I need to shove or fold, and given the money already in the pot, it’s probably a wash.

Flush draw: I know he can’t have a pair and a flush draw, since I have the 8, and the other cards on the board are diamonds. So, if he has a flush draw, let’s put him on a flush draw and 2 overcards. In that case, he has 7 flush outs and 6 overcard outs, which is 13 outs twice. So we are about even, and with dead money in the pot, I can’t fold, so I have to shove. If he has a flush draw with a low card, like, A3, then I’m in even better shape and should shove for sure.

A straight: If he has 47, then a 7 gives me a higher straight, so I have 12 outs. If he has 79, then I have 9 outs and 3 chop outs, call it 10.5 full outs. I have to figure that if I miss the turn, he is betting big, and I won’t get to see the river, so if I’m going to play, I have to assume we’re playing for stacks. My plays are to shove or fold. This is pretty borderline. If 47 and 79 are equally likely, then on average, I have around 11 outs. That’s about 40% to hit, with plenty of dead money. Important to note that this scenario (that he hit a straight) is the most unlikely one.

Two pair: I have exactly the same outs as if he has an overpair, unless he has an 8. So I should shove. If he has 86 or 85, then the remaining 8 is not an out for me, but this is unlikely all around and only discounts me by 2 outs from the overpair scenario. Shove.

Bluff: I think a bluff is not unlikely here. This is the same betting pattern where he saw me fold to a couple of minutes earlier, and he may be trying to bully me. In this case a shove will take it down, but he probably wasn’t putting more in anyway. He could also be bluffing with overcards, so shoving protects my hand, which is highly vulnerable despite all my outs.

Before I make the final decision, is it worth thinking about what range he puts me on? I don’t think so. This guy seems to be a level one player, looking only at his own cards, and I doubt he did a range analysis before raising. He thought about his play for less than a second. Regardless, I can never fold here.

So, I shoved, and he insta called, which I wasn’t thrilled to hear. The board came J Q. I said, “I missed,” and turned over my hand. He turned over 7T, and I won a huge pot.

Let's look at the hand from his perspective. He flopped an open ender and a flush draw. That's a monster flop. His analysis (had he done any - he actually played with no thought or hesitation) would have been almost the same as mine. I think the way this played out was inevitable.

Many poker players that I know will think, "I have a straight-flush draw so I'm going all the way with this hand." That might work some of the time, but I think what makes you a better player is to go through the analysis, as much as possible at the table, and then more away from the table, to really understand why you make whatever play you make. Sometimes, you might find that the play you thought was obvious is actually wrong. That happens to me all the time.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

24 Hours with My New Apple Watch

If I were to say that I spent most of yesterday sitting by the window like an over-eager child, watching for the UPS delivery truck, it would only be a slight exaggeration. When my package finally arrived containing the watch I have been awaiting for the last three years, before Apple even announced this product, I could hardly contain myself.

I ordered mine on April 10, the first day the watch was available for pre-order. After my fitting appointment where I tried on various combinations of bands and styles, I opted for the 38 mm stainless steel with the link chain. It is absolutely gorgeous, and so far, I’ve only crashed it twice - more on that later.

In preparation for my new arrival, I had studied all of the instructional videos that Apple put out and read a multitude of blog postings and tips explaining how to use this gadget. I was particularly interested in the fitness and health applications, and also excited about notifications. Unlike other apple products, the watch interface is somewhat complex, and navigation is not always intuitive. However, the advanced preparation really paid off, and after about 45 minutes of fiddling with the watch, I felt I understood how to use it.

Pairing the watch was trivial, and once it automatically downloaded all of the built-in apps from my iPhone, I set about configuring the settings. It didn’t take long to realize that the Apple Watch is a proxy for the iPhone, sort of like the way a bluetooth headset supports phone calls, but does not do much on its own with a phone. In fact, most of the applications come with a “Mirror my iPhone” option in the Settings, that keep the phone and the watch in perfect sync. Here is what the Calendar settings screen looks like on the iPhone.

As I mentioned, one of the most exciting features for me was the activity tracker and the fitness capabilities of the watch. I wondered how it handled step counting  since my iPhone also counts my steps. If I walk with the watch on my wrist and the phone in my pocket, will it double count my steps? So, I performed a simple experiment. I walked around the house with just the watch on. Then I walked around the house with just the phone. Finally, I walked the same path with both of them. In all three cases, it counted my steps accurately. So, obviously, Apple thought of this and somehow reconciles the steps measured by both devices. I wonder what would happen if I wore the watch and had an accomplice walk around with my phone, and we walked at different paces and for different lengths of time. I suppose I can save that experiment for a very slow Saturday night.

This morning, I worked out on my exercise bike with the watch on. Interestingly, I noticed that the bike was counting calories much faster than the watch. In fact, when I was all done, after 50 minutes, the bike reported more than double the number of calories that the watch was giving me credit for. The bike registered 270 calories, while the Watch said it was only 118. Based on my experience, the bike was likely much more accurate, which was disturbing considering that health and fitness was a primary attraction for the watch. However, after a bit of digging, I discovered that the watch was only displaying “Active Calories”, and not accounting for 75 “Resting Calories” that we all burn off just for being alive for 50 minutes. Added together, the watch says I used 193 calories during my workout. This is still significantly less than 270, so I’m not sure what’s going on.

Tomorrow, I plan on running 3 miles with the watch, and I will see how useful the watch is as a running aid. It’s my understanding that I need to run with my phone as well the first time, so that the Apple system (combination of watch + phone) “learns” how I run, and then in future runs, I will be able to leave the phone behind.

Now let me talk about notifications. Apple was very clever in several ways. For example, when you are using your iPhone, the watch does not display any notification. The assumption is that you already received the notification on your phone, so you do not need it on the watch. A big disappointment for me is the way Apple handles mail. I use the Gmail app to read email on my phone. While Gmail notifications appear on the watch, you can only read actual emails if you receive those message in the Apple Mail app on the phone. I am not ready to switch to the Apple Mail client on my phone (although in the process last night, I discovered that the Outlook email iPhone app from Microsoft is much better than Gmail, and I have just switched to that).

I supposed that I can live with receiving only notifications on my watch. They provide enough information (subject and a couple of small lines of text) to help me decide whether I need to pull out my phone to deal with a message. And, with the Outlook app notifications, I am able to delete or reply to messages directly from the watch. Replies are done via Siri or with a few canned replies that can be set up on the phone. I think the ability to delete unneeded emails on the watch and then not ever see them again is going to prove quite useful. I am also confident that we will soon see watch apps that support different email clients the way the built-in Mail app is now supported. (For that matter, I am drooling over the prospects of a Tesla app that will let me control my car from my watch the way I can currently control it from my iPhone.)

Perhaps the most unexpected and useful feature that I discovered has been the integration of Siri into the watch. When I was BBQing last night, I said “Hey Siri Timer”, and the timer app on the watch came up, allowing me to set a timer indicating when to turn over the chicken. Then, this morning, I was curious about the Wizards playoff basketball game last night (not interested enough in NBA games to actually watch, but curious to see how we did), and I asked the watch, via Siri, what the score was, and it immediately responded with the results.

I mentioned that I had crashed the watch twice already. So, apparently the watch does not work as well when the iPhone has no network. This morning, I attended a Bat Mitzvah ceremony in our synagogue, which is a cellular dead zone (I’ve often suspected that they jam signals there so people will pay attention and pray), and I noticed that on the watch face, the outside temperature was not displaying in its normal spot. I assume that when the iPhone can’t reach the Internet, it cannot update the temperature information. I was curious to see what other impact the lack of a network had, so I scrolled through some of the “glances”, which are different Apple Watch apps that you can access quickly, and each time I tried to look at the Maps app, the watch crashed and rebooted. So, Apple, you have a bug - the built-in maps app does not like not having a network in a synagogue. Please fix!

Watch apps are coming fast and furious, but with the limited screen real estate, only a small number of them will be useful. One that I already have used, and which I think is terrific is the app. It lets me see the status of my home alarm, and I can set it for “stay” or “away” right from the watch. Of course, it is my phone that is doing the heavy lifting, but the software stub on the watch is simple and intuitive, and does exactly what I need.

I’ve only had the Apple Watch for about 24 hours, and yet, I already feel like I would miss it if I did not have it. The watch is sleek, beautiful, feature-rich, and almost like having a companion at all times. I can’t wait to see what it’s like to use it for the next week.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Data Breach Notification

I value our relationship and respect the privacy of your information, which is why, as a precautionary measure, I am writing to let you know about a data security incident that involves your personal information. This message is being sent in compliance with Maryland Code Com. Law §§ 14-3501 relating to PHI breach notification requirements.

I’m sorry to inform you that your private data has likely been compromised by a massive data breach, including, but not limited to, all of your personal health data, financial records, genetic codes, location data, exercise routines, and eating habits. It is likely that everything ever known about you is now in the hands of ruthless hackers from the tiny nation state of Seychelles.

I am ashamed and embarrassed that this happened, and I can offer no good explanation for this other than to say that it is an experiment gone bad. Over the last 15 years, I have been secretly collecting data about you and everyone else I know in an attempt to build a massive information trove which I figured would some day have some commercial value. I hacked into your doctor’s office computers, spied on your financial manager, downloaded data from your bank, and installed video cameras everywhere you go, with live feeds that were uploaded to my massive AI cluster where advanced big data analysis tools broke down every action, categorized it, and filed it in my database.

I should have known that a data repository such as this would represent a serious hacking target, but I did not employ even the most basic protection measures because I wanted to be consistent with industry norms and not draw any attention to my experiment with over the top security such as encryption and key management.

I am prepared to make reparations. In exchange for all the valuable data you’ve ever had about yourself, I am going to offer you 90 days of credit monitoring at no charge. Also, since you are extremely likely to have your identity stolen, I am willing to offer you a cover identity that you can rent for $50/month until said identity is also stolen, at which point a newer identity will be offered for a lump sum to be negotiated later.

Once again, I apologize, and I wish you a very nice day on this April 1, 2015.


Avi Rubin

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

FAQ about my solution for enhancing security of online poker

Since I went public with an idea for helping to protect online poker, I have received a tremendous amount of feedback. In the poker community, I have had the chance to discuss my idea with notables, including some well known pros. I am grateful to Nolan Dalla, Stephen McLaughlin, Vanessa Rousso, Tony Dunst, Ali Nejad, Christian Harder, Matt Savage, Gavin Smith, Greg Merson, Tom Schneider, Matt Glantz, and many friends who have reviewed my white paper and given me feedback and excellent introductions. Sorry for the shameless name dropping, but I think that’s part of getting traction for this. As a result of introductions by Gavin and Vanessa, I will have an article published in next month's All In Magazine.

The discussions have led to some frequent questions, so I’ve compiled the most common ones here for a short FAQ about my idea:

Q. There is no way to make this user friendly. People are going to hate this, and nobody will want to do something so inconvenient.

Thanks for the question. (not really a question!)

The way I envision this is as an enhancement  to existing online poker sites. Users who want to keep things as they were can do so. Users who want more security can check the “use secondary device for hole cards” option on their configuration screen. If they select this option, then they run through a registration process to register their smarphone or tablet, after which they can receive their hole cards on a second device. At any point, users can uncheck the box in their configuration and receive their hole cards the old fashioned way.

If you find security enhancement cumbersome, you can keep it off and only turn it on when you are playing higher stakes, or perhaps when you are on a network that you trust less (e.g. at Starbucks). The user decides how to balance security and convenience.

Q. How will multi-tabling work? Most poker pros like to play many tables at once. How would you support this?

I have put a lot of work into designing a solution for multi-tabling. I think it’s challenging, but doable. Here is one of my mock up pictures that shows what an iPhone screen might look like for someone multi-tabling. The highlighted hand corresponds to the one that has focus on the user’s computer screen.


You could easily fit 12 hands on a standard iPhone screen, and as you navigate the tables on your computer, the iPhone highlights the hole cards that correspond to the table with the current focus on the screen. I am working on a detailed design document that I plan to publish in the near future that explains how all of this works.

Q. How does your solution address collusion or cheating poker sites?

My solution does not address these problems. It is nothing more than an enhancement to existing online poker that gives users an option to receive their hole cards on a secondary device, such as a smartphone or a tablet.

Q. Are remote access tools a real threat?

I have discovered, to my surprise, that this question is often debated in the poker community. There are loud voices who seem to think that if they deny the prevalence of remote access tools, that somehow the problem will disappear. One of the things that I’ve discovered in my career is that whether I’m working on electronic voting security, electronic medical records security, or any other application area, there are always stakeholders who come out of the woodwork with pseudo-science theories, making a tremendous amount of noise, with nothing but their volume to rely on for credibility. I suppose I should not have been surprised to find the same in the poker community, especially given the amount of money in this industry.

Yes, remote access tools are real, they are widespread, and they will affect online poker, banking, and every other online application. I believe a great first step towards combatting RAT tools was two-factor authentication. My solution attempts to take the technology to the next level, offering persistent hiding of information from malware on users’ computers. I think the true debate should be whether this technique is effective, usable, and efficient enough, not whether RAT tools exist. You don’t fight wars by denying the existence of your enemy - you bring your best weapons to the fight.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Trip Report: Third and final day of 2014 WSOP

Yesterday was my last day in Vegas. My plan to play in the afternoon $230 deep stack was preempted by the opportunity to pitch my ideas for protecting online poker to some of the industry leaders in the online poker world. I had an amazing meeting with Nolan Dala. He was genuinely interested in my solutions, and perhaps even more so in the fact that a security academic such as myself wants to devote time and energy to this. He called up some of the movers and shakers in the business of poker, and set up a meeting for me that evening. He also wrote a very nice article that he posted to his blog. The meeting was with Steven McLoughlin of PokerTracker fame, and with Matt Kaufman of z4, who fortuitously happened to be walking by. They gave me unbelievably useful advise, and besides, it was a blast to speak to people who were so knowledgeable about the poker industry, as well as the game. In fact, Steve had played in a Poker Night in America game, and we traded some stories. (Pretty cool too, that as we were speaking, Phil Ivy walked right by us, with an entourage in tow.)

Back to the beginning now. I got up early again and was too tired after my third consecutive night with only a few hours of sleep to go to the gym, so I grabbed some fruit at Starbucks and headed to the live poker tables at the WSOP. There were several tables of cash going, and I was the only one who hadn’t been there all night, a great spot! The table at first glance seemed intimidating. There were three stacks of over 3k in chips, and clearly these guys were grinders who had felted and outlasted many other players, while feasting on their chips. There was this old Asian guy with 1,500, a young guy with the believable claim, based on his appearance, that he had been playing for 2 days straight with over 5k, sporting and a dozen or so towers of red chips that went 30 high, along with towers of green, a few black chips, and a pile of $100 bills on the side. There was “Cadillac Frank” who was from New York, and I suppose his name was Frank, and that he drove a cadillac (both facts that I later verified). To my right was an aggresive Israeli who rebought for $1,000 three times in the first twenty minutes I was there, and in seat #7 was the Australian with over $4k in chips who was cursing loudly and had probably been drinking for the last 10 hours.

A great table!

I bought in for my usual $600, and decided to play very tight for a couple of orbits to get a feel for the table. It was a raise-fest. Typical pot started with a $25 raise, and usually was followed by an $80 3-bet and 4 people to the flop. Lots of squeezing too. If I was going to enter a pot, I had to be ready to put a significant amount of my stack in pre-flop. I have to say that I felt fortunate to have already played once in a bigger game, the 25-50 TV one at Maryland Live, so that rather than feel intimidated, I decided that I’m rarely going to get as juicy a table with overly aggressive players who play too many hands, and are too tired and, in one instance drunk, to play intelligently. On the other hand, this game would have high variance, so I had to be ready to take some bad beats and not let them get to me. Get it in good, and then let the math do the rest.

I don’t have any specific hands worth describing from that session, but it was fun and wild. Around 11:30, I texted Kenny that I was over $1,000, and he texted back that I should take my winnings and relax before we met for lunch at 12:30, but it was my last day, and I wasn’t ready to quit yet. Wouldn’t you know it, I lost $400 on the next hand, and  $200 on the one after that. Fortuntely, I picked up a huge hand a bit later and won it all back and then some. When the dust settled, it was one of my better cash sessions and covered another tournament buy-in.

After lunch, I played a couple of $275 buy-in sit and goes. First place would get $2,500 and second got $120 (huh?!?). I was told by the other players that typically top 2 or 3 places agree to a proportional chop, and I said I was game for that. Most of the players also did a $100 last longer, but I declined both times. There were other last longers in the same tournament among smaller groups of players. A bunch of piles of $100 bills. These guys all love to gamble.

Nothing too exciting to report about the sit and goes. In both tournaments I built up a pretty big stack size, and in both cases I got it in good against other stacks and got sucked out on. Very frustrating. Then, I played one more cash session before the meetings with the poker business people.

It wouldn’t be a poker trip report without at least one hand description, so here is the most interesting hand I played yesterday, from that last cash session.

I’m UTG and haven’t played any hands in a while. I have $675 in my stack. My table image is tight, and I decide to mix it up, so I raise to $25 with 5 6 . Crazy guy (CG) who has me covered on my immediate left raises to $60, and the SB (stack: $450) calls. I call. If I flop well, they will never see it coming. It’s a marginal call at best, but every once in a while you have to play unpredictably. It’s one of the few times all week that I raised in early position with a hand like this. I’ve won some of my biggest pots in poker playing these types of hands, in no small part due to how infrequently I try this.

I put CG on any two cards. SB has been playing pretty well, but liked to see flops, and I put him on a range consisting mostly of two high cards, a low or medium pair, a suited ace, or a hand like TJs.

Flop (185):  6 4 2

I have top pair, a flush draw, a gutshot, and a one-card straight-flush draw. Not too shabby. I doubt either of my opponents connected much with this flop. Against an overpair, I’m actually a favorite with 17 outs twice (if I get to see two cards), and if I bet a lot, I also have fold equity. I’m hoping to play a huge pot on the flop and plan on betting big. I really want to get it all in before the turn. I have 615 left in my stack with 185 in the pot.

The SB checks. I am about to bet when the dealer tells CG that it’s his action, and CG reaches for chips and starts to bet. I exclaim that I had not acted yet, and everyone confirms that to the dealer. He apologizes and says the action is on me. Well, I now know that CG is going to bet, so I check. CG bets $125. The SB calls. Perfect!! Now there is $435 in the pot, and I shove all in.

CG goes into the tank. He’s been a crazy, active player (which is why I call him Crazy Guy), and I’ve seen him make stupid calls with draws and weak hands, and I’m actually hoping he’ll call. I think I’m ahead of anything he could possibly have. But he folds. Then SB goes into the tank. He only has $265 left. Again, I’m hoping for a call, but I’ll also happy if he folds. He calls, and to my surprise turns over 9 9. The board runs out Q , A♠, and I lose a big pot.

Did his call make sense? If I’m in his spot, I’m thinking that the short guy in the Orioles hat has the following range: a set, a higher pair, or A K . Less likely, but also possible are combo draws or two pair. I’m discounting the combo draw or two pair because it’s unlikely this tight-playing guy (me) raised UTG pre-flop with low cards and then called 60. I’m really thinking set, over-pair, or A K.

Let’s look at his pot odds calculation. The pot has 825 in it (185+125*3+265). He has to call 265 to win 825, so he is getting 3-1. Let’s break down the possibilities from his perspective based on the possible hands that I have. I will assign percentages of the likelihood that I have each hand, based on the betting that he has seen and the image he has of me:

- an overpair:  he is a 4-1 dog, so he should fold. Likelihood: 50%
- A K or A Q:  I have 15 outs, so he is about a 1.6-1 dog and should call. Likelihood: 15%
- Two pair:  He has 8 outs, and some backdoor outs, so he’s about a 3-1 dog. A wash. Likelihood: 10%
- A set: He has 2 outs, and it’s a definite fold. Likelihood: 15%
- A bluff:  Likelihood: 10%

So, 65% of the time, he should fold, 25% of the time he should call, and 10% of the time, it doesn’t matter. So overall, that is clearly a fold.

But he called, and I lost.

Sad, but happily I won it all back a while later. What’s interesting about the hand is the flop decision and the dealer’s mistake. CG said he folded JJ. That’s believable. SB said that if I had bet, then CG would have raised (I am certain of that), and then he would have folded his nines. I definitely believe that. So, in fact, the dealer cost me the pot with his mistake because I would have shoved over CG’s raise, and he would have folded, most likely. So strange how hands can play out differently based on subtle changes to the action.

I ended the week up about even with almost $2,785 in tournament buy-ins (no cashes), and slightly more in cash game winnings. Basically a wash, except that I had a ton of fun, so I feel I came out ahead. Here are some notable facts about my trip:

  • In three full days of poker, I was never dealt AA. I think I had just about every other pair, and for some reason was dealt TT a lot. But no aces. On the plus side, I never had my aces cracked.
  • I was a 27 magnet. Felt like every other hand. Especially in the tournaments.
  • I got dealt KK three times in the first bracelet tournament that I played. All three times an A flopped, and I ended up losing the hand.
  • I never left the Rio. Saturday-Wednesday in Vegas, and I never went anywhere. It was around 109 degrees outside. No big loss. My favorite poker room is at the Aria, but not when the WSOP is in town.
  • All of the 2-5 cash tables where I played were action tables. I don’t recall more than a handful of limped pots, and almost no blind chops because every pot was raised.
  • If one more person flops a set of 3s against me, I think I will go crazy. It happened to me in two of the three tournaments, knocking me out both times, and once in the cash game, costing me a big pot.
  • There is no place like the WSOP. Unbelievable!!!!!