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!!!!!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Trip Report: Second day of WSOP

Another incredible day at the WSOP is in the books. I played a bracelet event, the 1k turbo and a WSOP non-bracelet daily event with a $230 buy-in and a $270k prize pool. The tournament featured around 2,000 and 1,300 players respectively, which is kind of hard to wrap my brain around. Consider that most of these players, especially in the bracelet event, are anywhere from decent to great, getting through a field like this requires a great amount of talent, and an equal amount of luck.

It’s an ongoing debate in my house as to the amount of luck vs. skill in poker. First, I think you have to break it down into tournaments vs. cash games. In the latter, skill clearly dominates as the stacks are always deeper, and there is no difference between the early stages and the late stages of a cash game, except for one’s level of exhaustion.

However, on this trip, I’m starting to gain a deeper appreciation for the level of skill involved in tournaments. I spent some time observing final tables of the earlier bracelet events. It’s so cool here that you can walk around to the various rooms in the convention center and see the final tables. The tables are in a studio-like set with TVs and lights and seats where the public can just walk in and watch. It can’t be a coincidence that the big-name players seem to always rise to the top in these big bracelet events. I watched Phil Gelfand playing a final table, I saw Phil Helmuth in the final two tables of the 6 max (He came in 8th, which is technically not making the final table in that event), and many other recognizable players.

I think that while there is more luck involved in tournaments, especially to an observer, who watches race after race as the stacks get deep, there is clearly a science to tournaments that is unique to that format. Understanding inflection points, the need to steal, and short stack theory completely changes the fundamentals of hand reading, and those who win these big tourneys have a keen knack for how to read people based on their situation in the tournament. This is a dynamic that does not exist in cash games, and in fact, one could argue that tournament players need all of the skills of cash players, and many more additional abilities based on factors that do not exist in live games. I definitely gained a deeper appreciation for the skill required in tournaments on this trip.

Perhaps the most striking thing to me is the difference in skill level when I moved from the bracelet event with a $1k buy-in to the $230 event. At the first event, I had 2 known pros at my table (Cousin Kenny knew them and had played with them at PARX), and a few other players who appeared to be regular grinders. Not a single donkey (which I guess means I was the one) to be found. I was eliminated in level 4, and I moved on to the $230 event. At that table, it was a complete donkey-fest. I seriously think I was the only one at the table who had ever read a poker book or who had any clue how to play. We had limped pots, a couple of guys who called every bet but never raised, and my favorite, one guy who always said, “well I’m sure you got me, but I’m curious,” as he called with third pair or worse and lost every time.

Anyone who wants to argue that tournament poker is all luck and little skill needs to come play in these two tournaments back to back. Sure, if all of the players have equal skill, then luck will determine the winner, but I think that if you mix up the top pros with the average players, the results will be like if the Ravens played a local high school football team.

Here is a picture of me in the bracelet event.

And here is Kenny playing in the $230 event. He went pretty deep, until about 9:30 pm, and had a serious run at cashing. If he had won his last all in hand, he would have been one of the chip leaders.

One of my goals coming to the WSOP this year was to promote an idea I had for how to make online poker more secure. Before coming out here, I filed a patent on the idea and wrote a white paper to distribute to the poker community.

When I played on Poker Night in America I got to meet some of the famous named players, and I got in touch with some of them before coming out here. At the WSOP, all of the famous players walk around and mix with everyone else. Every single one I have come across has been friendly, approachable and eager to help. I met with Tom Schneider, a former WPT player of the year and multiple bracelet winner. He seemed to like my idea, and said he would pass it along to some editors of a poker magazine. I also had meetings and chats about my solution with Gavin Smith and Greg Merson, both of whom said they would help connect me to people who can help publicize it and perhaps make it happen. Today, I’m meeting with Nolan Dalla, the media director of the WSOP, and the producer of Poker Night. I’ve also exchanged emails with Vanessa Rouseu, Matt Glantz, and Matt Savage, all of whom said they would forward my article to people who write about poker.

Star gazing at the WSOP is fun if you’re a big poker fan. So far, besides the people I’ve mentioned, I’ve seen Dan Harrington, Jason Somerville, whom I chatted with briefly, Barry Greenstein, Tony Dunst, Annette Obrestad, Maria Ho, Vanessa Selbst, Allen Cunningham, and lots of other players whose faces I recognized from TV and Bluff Magazine, but whose names I do not know.

As to interesting hands, I had a few, but unfortunately, all of them are bad beats, and I don’t have the stomach to re-live them. Interestingly, I got knocked out of both tournaments by opponents who flopped a set of 3s. In the bracelet event, I had flopped top two pair, and in the tournament I flopped top pair with KJ. In both cases, I think I was coolered.

I’m going to close out this blog with one detailed hand description from the cash game after the tournaments. I played cash for about 4 hours in the evening and made up for a good chunk of my tournament buy-ins, as my cash results have been very good on this trip. I chose this hand because I think it does a great job of illustrating the difference between playing against a weak amateur and playing against a pro. This hand would have played completely differently against someone whose skill I respected. It also shows the power of position.

It’s a 2-5 table, and I’m on the button with $855. UTG limps. UTG+2, the Villain in this hand, who has me covered, limps. He’s been playing loose, and I observed that he has a tendency to call in marginal situations on the river. I look down at A K and raise to 35. Only V calls. With 82 in the pot and 820 in my stack, I have an SPR of 10, which is horrible for AK. If I hit TPTK and all the money goes in, I will probably be behind. I realized that I should have bet more. With deep stacks, AK is a tricky hand. You need to flop more than one pair to want to play a big pot.

Flop (82):  A A Q

Can’t ask for much better than that. Only one had beats me (because he would have raised with QQ or AA), and given that I have an A, the chances that he has AQ are slim. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure he would have raised the original limper with AQ. V checks. I consider putting in a bet because I figure that he knows I would continuation bet on this flop if I missed it, and if he has a hand like 77 or 88, he will probably call. On the other hand, there are a lot of hands that I put in his range, like suited connectors and KJ type hands where he will just fold. Since I have position, I decide to check and see if I can induce a bluff on the turn, or perhaps he will hit a card and catch up a little. I check.

Turn (82):  J

I don’t love this card, as there are now three new hands that beat me, AJ and JJ (unlikely since he originally limped), and KT. However, most of the time, I have to be good here, and if I’m behind, I have outs. V bets $40. Now I have to decided whether to call or raise. I figure if he has a Q, a J or a weak ace, he might call a raise, but he would then probably check the river and might not call another bet on the river. There might be a few hands where he would call a bet with a hand worse than mine, but given the leverage of a river bet that is still to come, he’ll also fold a lot of hands that might call a bet on the river. So, I call.

River (162): 6

I don’t think he has a 6 in his hand, so the river shouldn’t change anything. V bets $50. My first thought is that this is a very small bet. Could it be a value bet? Does he think he is good? Or is it a cheap attempt to steal the pot with nothing? So, what does he think I have? I was the pre-flop raiser, and I checked the flop, both of which are consistent with having a decent A. He has to consider that I might have an A. So, if he is value betting, he can beat an A.

Do I raise or call?

Here is where it gets interesting. If he is a good player, then he would only value bet if he can beat an A. With a Q and a J on the board, if he has a kicker below a J, his kicker won’t play, so he loses to AK, AQ, and AJ no matter what if he has a naked A, and he chops with any other A that I might have. So, for a good player, a value bet has to mean that he either has KT for a straight or a boat. But, then I considered that maybe he’s a bad player. I had seen enough evidence of that. A bad player with a hand like A7 won’t ask himself what I have, he might just think. “I have an A. There are 2 aces on the board. I better bet.”

Now, do I raise? If I am up against a good player, there is no value to my raise because I’ve already determined that all of his value bets beat me. And, if I raise and he was bluffing he’ll fold. Furthermore, a tricky player could re-raise bluff me all in, and I’d have to fold the best hand. So, against a good player, there is absolutely no value in raising, and there is a risk that I could even be bluffed off my hand.

But if he is a bad player, which I suspect he is, then he could call a raise with a weak A, for the simple reason that he has an A and there are two aces on the board, and that could be the limit of his thinking.

So, I went over several of the previous hands that he played in the session. Several times he said that he had raised “to see where I’m at”, and also, he had made really silly river calls “to look you up”. He was an older guy who did not seem to be a thinking player. I went with my read and decided that he’s not the kind of player who is going to bluff me all in, so I don’t need to worry about that. If he shoves over my raise, I can easily fold knowing I am beaten. And, if he has an A, he might just call my raise. I raise to 150. He mutters under his breath. Takes some time to think, and then calls, showing A 8 and declaring “you know, I just can’t fold an A here.”

Chalk one more up for the good guys!

Monday, June 09, 2014

Trip Report: First Day of WSOP

My first day at the WSOP is in the books. It featured a tournament with 1,995 players (my biggest previous field was around 200), and a cash hand at 2-5 with the biggest pot I’ve ever played outside of the Poker Night in America game. Absolutely crazy hand.

I decided to take the morning off so that I could focus during the tournament, which started at noon. I got 5 hours of sleep, which is about all I ever hope for in Vegas. I did some work on my computer in my room until the gym opened at 6, had an intense workout for about an hour, grabbed breakfast, and then went back to my room. Ironic that my idea of taking the morning off meant that I didn’t play poker, but rather, sat with my laptop and worked on my research.

I have to admit that I felt very nervous as noon approached and my first WSOP bracelet event was about to begin. You start the tourney with 3,000 in chips, and so one big mistake, and you’re out. I arrived at my table around 11:45, one of the first ones to show up, and I took in the scene. Pretty unbelievable room, with hundreds of active poker tables. The sound of the crickets filled the air, as thousands of people shuffled their chips in unison.

The blinds started at 25-25 and moved up every hour. I loved the slow blinds pace. My table featured  a number of players who had won their home leagues and were representing their buddies here, as well as this familiar looking Indian guy who was super aggressive. He seemed to have Jerry’s hand-reading skills, and Woods-like abilities, and by the first break, he had over 6,500 in chips. People kept coming over to our table to talk to him, and I figured he must be a known pro. It turns out he was Mukul Pahuja, last year’s WPT player of the year, and one of the top players in the world. Just my luck. In fact, I tangled with him a couple of times, and he really crushed me. I might have been out early but for a stroke of luck that our table was broken up, and I was moved with my 2,100 to a new table. After a few orbits, I was down to 1,100. Everybody seemed to be playing very tight, except this one woman who played every single hand - not exaggerating, and one older guy to her right who was pretty loose and selectively aggressive.

I was pretty desperate with blinds at 50-100 and my stack of 1,100. Crazy aggro woman raised UTG to 300 for like the 15th time in a row, and I had TT in the BB. I shipped, and she called with 66. Tens held up, and I had some breathing room. I went on a bit of a tear after that and got to the second break with 5,200, well above average.

I was pretty excited about my prospects of getting to the dinner break with chips. I’ve never played a multi-day tournament, and I’ve never even had a dinner break during a game. I got moved to the other room, along with most of the other players, and I could see from the tournament board that we were getting down to around 700 players remaining. So, I had out-lasted 2/3 of the field so far, and notable eliminations included Antonio Esfandiari and several other famous pros. Cousin Kenny was a couple of tables over in my new room with slightly more chips than me, and he came over at one point to tell me that Phil Helmuth bought in late and was seated two seats to his left. Very cool, but better him than me!

With 6 minutes left until the dinner break, I had a slightly below average stack of 7,200, which was my biggest stack so far. I had been playing pretty carefully, winning most of my pots uncontested either pre-flop or on my continuation bet. A couple of my C-bets were raised, and I got away from the hands. I never had any real cards. No aces, no kings. I had QQ once, and only took down the blinds. I was never dealt AK nor AQ. I was quite pleased to be in the position I was in having been pretty much card-dead most of the tournament. Of course, being card dead has its advantages. There were lots of all in confrontations and bad beats at my table. One hand featured AK, KK, and QQ all in pre-flop with a Q on the turn and two players licking their wounds as the scrambled to twitter their bad beat stories to the world. My 83 and 2J hands were not getting me into trouble.

So back to 6 minutes left until the dinner break. Phil Helmuth had already left the room, willing to be blinded out while he enjoyed whatever it is he does during the breaks. I considered the idea of leaving as well, just to get to the dinner break, but I dismissed that idea as wimpy and short-sighted. In the cutoff, I got K J .  Blinds were 100-200 with a 25 ante. I had 7,200 and the BB had a huge stack. I raised to 500, and the BB called 300 more.

Flop came K 8 3 . He checks, and I bet 700 into a pot of 1,300. He called.  I know that he’s seen me continuation bet 100% of the time, so I am not surprised that he calls, and I think I am probably good here. He could have an 8, a weaker K, a pair below 88, and many other hands that I am beating. Turn is 10 . Pot is 2,700, and he checks. I think I am still good, and some straight draws and a flush draw have arrived, so I want to end it now. I bet 2,000, and he calls. Now I’m not happy. Lots of 2 pair combinations that beat me, but also a bunch of draws that he could be playing. River is  3 . No flush. He puts me all in, and I have 4,000 left. The pot is 6,700.

Not happy. If I call and win, I have over 10k and am in great shape to continue my run towards cashing. If I fold, I have 4,000 and way below average stack. What am I beating? Really just a bluff. But, this player was capable of bluffing, and there were a lot of missed draws on the board. I have to be right once in 2.5 times. In hindsight, my turn bet was too large. If I had bet 1,200, then I may be able to get away from the hand. My river call was also pretty bad. I knew in my gut that he had me. I was out. C'est la vie.

Can't believe he called me pre-flop with K 8..

Felt pretty horrible about busting right before the dinner break. I walked over to Kenny’s table. He had just lost an all in with AK to 99 and was on life support with around 1,500. Two hands later, and we’re going to dinner. He’s still alive, but blinds will be 150-300 with a 25 ante after dinner, so he has to make a move in the next orbit.

Kenny and I did the buffet, and then we headed back. He folds 2 hands and then gets a walk in the big blind! Nice timing. The next hand, Kenny is blind vs. blind and he shoves and gets called. He flops a straight with J9, only to lose when the other guy rivers a boat. So brutal. He would have been right back in with 4,500. Thatz poker.

Soon after, I found out just how ridiculous poker can be. Absolutely the craziest hand I think I’ve ever played.

Kenny and I went to play 2-5 in the huge cash room full of crickets. We did not want to play against each other, so we went to different tables. I bought in for $600. About an hour later, I’ve got $975 and am starting to feel a bit better. Busting in the tournament was painful, but the cash game was going very well. The guy two to my left has about $3,000 in chips, and decides to call it a night. He leaves and is replaced by a guy who buys in for $1,000, the table max. I don’t know his name, so I will call him Villain, or V for short. V decides to post his blind, even though he will be the big blind in two hands. It’s his very first hand, and I have no read on V whatsoever, although I decide based on his demeanor and that he bought in for the table max that he knows his way around a poker table.

So, UTG folds, and V raises to 25. It’s an active table, and he gets 5 callers. I’m in the BB, and I look down at  A K . Seems like a good squeeze spot, and I make it 150 into a pot of 150. V calls, and everybody else folds. Not really what I was hoping for. He’s got position on me and a big stack. My guess is that if I whiff the flop, he’s coming out betting no matter what. Since I have no knowledge of how he plays, I imagine he is putting me on a range of TT+,Ak. So, since he called, I’m thinking he has JJ+,AK, weighted more towards the higher end.

Flop (450):  10 A 7

I have 825 left. My pre-flop stack to pot ratio is under 2, so this is an excellent result, and based on SPR, I am supposed to try to get as much money in as quickly as possible and never to fold. Based on the range I assigned him pre-flop, I’m only losing to AA and chopping AK. It’s sort of possible he has TT, but that is so unlikely, I’m just going to have to pay him off. I decide I am pot committed, and that I want to value bet. So, what kind of bet will he call? If he has JJ-QQ, he might call one continuation bet. (I assume he would have re-raised with KK pre-flop.) However, the range I assumed he had me on pre-flop included mostly AK, with some high pairs. He has to be worried about TT, AA and AK - i.e. most of my range is good here. I decide that if he is calling at all, I need to bet on the small side, so I make it 200. He calls.

Turn (850):  5

I now have 625 left. I have a nagging feeling that he’s slow playing AA, and that he smooth called pre-flop to trap. But, I have to stick to the plan. So, I’m value betting. How much will he call? Well, clearly the normal play here is to stick my remaining 625 in. But, perhaps there’s a small chance he has JJ or QQ. So, the only hand I might get a call from, if he is a non-believer is JJ or QQ. If I had my guess, I would say we’re going to be chopping this pot. Anyway, I bet 300, leaving 325 behind. I expect him to shove or fold. To my surprise, he just calls. Is it possible he has JJ or QQ? If so, he’s one stubborn dude, and simply does not believe I hit that flop. Still, the flop hit my range pretty hard. Now I’m really starting to think he has AA. Slow playing on every street. Oh well, if he has that, I’m going to pay him off.

River (1,450): Q

I have 325 left. There is no longer any value in betting. If he has QQ, he just hit his hand. If he has JJ, he’s probably not calling, although he should know he’s pot committed. I cannot think of a single hand that I am beating that he could have in this situation, and I can think of one hand, that I now feel he probably has that is beating me. Most likely, we’re chopping. Anyway, I check. He goes all in. I call, knowing that I am beat.

Amazingly, he then utters those three little words that every poker dreams of, 

“You got me."

And he emphatically tables  8 9 face up on the table. WTF?!?!?! I turned over my AK, and got congratulated by the table. V got up, knocked on the table, said “Good hand”, and left.

So much for my hand reading skills and my careful analysis. Upon reflection, here is how the thought process probably went in his head:

“Okay, I’m going to buy in for the max and teach these guys a few things. Wow, look at this hand! I have a flush draw and a straight draw, and I once saw a flop with three eights. Wouldn’t that be cool. Two hearts! I love hearts. Hearts actually symbolize love. I’m going to raise to 25. Okay, good, all these suckers are calling. They don’t know how strong my hand is. I’m going to crush them. Wow, check this out, the short guy in the Michigan hat just raised. Not sure how much he made it, but I’m definitely calling with all my draws.”

“Bingo!!! I just flopped an open ended straight draw! The nuts! If I hit a 6 or a J, I have a straight. Holy cow that’s a great hand. And this idiot just bet into me. I’m definitely calling. Now the turn. Ugh! So close. A 5 is almost a 6, and I would have hit my straight. Look at this guy betting again. Should I raise? Nah, I don’t want to give away the strength of my hand. He might fold, and then I won’t get the rest of his chips. I call. And the river. I can’t wait! Here comes my straight! If I hit this, I will double up to 2,000, and then I can go put the money on the roulette wheel, and I can win 100k, and then I will go home and throw a party for all my friends. This is the best trip ever. I love Vegas. Here it is … oh no! I missed. Wait, OMG, he checked. He is weak. Is it possible my 9 high is good? Wow, wouldn’t that be something. 100k. I better go all in. Uh oh. He called. I guess that’s poker. What a bad beat. I don’t understand why I’m always so unlucky at this game. Maybe I’ll head to the craps table. I still have another thousand in one of my pockets.”

So, I won my tourney buy-in back in one hand, and even covered most of my expenses for the trip in the session. I called it quits and went over to Kenny’s table, where he was up several hundred. Called it a night and went to bed.

Today, I’m going to play in another bracelet event. It’s a 1,000 turbo. Same as yesterday’s, but rounds are 30 minutes instead of 60. Two day event, so again I’m hoping to get past the dinner break and get to day 2 tomorrow.