Friday, July 21, 2006

The odd couple and some marked cards

Everytime I get my Kia Spectrum (this is a midsize car?) from the Binion’s valet and drive up the interstate toward the Rio, I see at least one plane taking off from McCarran and I have to wonder…are these people sad? I know I would be, having to leave Las Vegas after what was undoubtedly for most a stay of a few short days.

The media room is a nice quiet respite from the thundering herds outside, in and around the tournament area. It’s nice to chat with my fellow www.pokerblog.commers to see what interesting stories they have to tell, and of course Pauly (taopoker.blogspot.com) always has the down and dirty about what’s going on. (Though I had one even he didn’t see yesterday, Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott grinding with one of the Sapphire strippers in the hall.)

This will be my last full day in Vegas until Tuesday. Friends Brian and Heather are flying in Friday evening and we’re driving to L.A. Saturday to hit some sites. On Sunday, we’re taking the Universal Studios tour and Monday is the realization of the five-year dream, attending a taping of The Price is Right.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Last night, some more of my Tuscaloosa pals – my poker playing pals – flew in and we hung out at the Rio. I showed Jerry around the tournament room and he stood agape at the zoo exhibits behind the ropes – the Seidels, and the Tillys and the Forrests. He truly looked like the kid in the candy store. And then I showed him all the beautiful hospitality suite girls and he was the Jerry I’ve always known again.

I ducked my head in the Poker Stars suite at 6 in the evening for the David Sklansky seminar, which had a surprise guest when Norm McDonald plopped himself down beside a beautiful blonde on one of the couches.

One’s a balding straight-laced mathematician who prefers poker theory to parties. The other’s a wise-cracking comedian who’s not afraid to do a little dirty work and never misses his headline news. I give you the new odd couple: David Sklansky and Norm McDonald.

The “Saturday Night Live” alum was among the guests at a seminar held by poker’s greatest theorist in a hospitality suite at the WSOP Thursday night.

Wearing blue jeans and a Boston Red Sox baseball cap, McDonald enjoyed a little give and take with Sklansky.

When a listener asked about the all-in system for novices that Sklansky discussed in his book, “Tournament Poker for Advanced Players,” Sklansky replied that the system had been perfected in the new book “Kill Phil” by Blair Rodman and Lee Nelson.

“Did you get a piece of that?” McDonald asked in his deadpan delivery.

“No, I didn’t,” Sklansky said with a glum grin.

The theme of Sklansky’s talk was how to make proper all-in preflop decisions. He noted that even a mediocre hand can draw out on a good hand by the time the river hits.

“It makes it a reasonable play to move in preflop,” he said. “You can win two ways – the other players can fold or your hand can win.”

“It turns out there are a lot of moves that show a profit even if you will be called only when you are beat.”

Sklansky had the look of a 10-year-old giving his class a speech, or a deer in headlights, until he started writing on the dry erase board and doing mathematical computations and his comfort level started to grow. McDonald watched from a nearby couch as Sklansky wrote various hand matchups on the board and asked the audience to guess the winning percentages in all-in situations.

Many in the audience, including McDonald, guessed and missed.

“How many of you would call with jack-ten suited?” Sklansky asked about one situation.

“I would,” McDonald said.

Sklansky shook his head at another incorrect answer.

“Where you playing next week?” an older man in the front row asked McDonald.

Sklansky discussed a fairly comprehensive list of possible hand matchups and emphasized the need to memorize the list.

“When you’re in these hands you’ve got to know the pot odds,” he said.

Sklansky was busted in the second day of the $1,500 NLHE tournament on Wednesday when the small blind, with 100,000 in chips, raised with T-3 to 11,000 and Sklansky moved all in for 14,000 more with A-9 from the big blind. The T-3 was then priced in, called and won.

“He forced himself to call me,” Sklansky said. “He should have moved me all in or raised less where he could get away from the hand.”

Sklansky said it used to be that participants in the WSOP main event could tread water on day one and still have a chance to win the event. Now with the large fields, Sklansky said many players, including himself, find themselves having to take more risks to build a bigger stack on day one.

“If you’re trying to get 670th place and win $20,000 that old strategy will still work,” he said.
I spoke with McDonald after the speech and told him he should crash that movie they’re filming at the Golden Nugget. He said he hadn’t heard about it, but his ears perked up when I told him it was a movie about poker.

And on another note:

Almost everyone I talk to is complaining about the cards, and I'm not talking about getting cold decked. Most of the decks in use at the WSOP either have spots on the back or nail indentations in them. In short, many of the decks are marked in one way or another.

You may have read of the incident in the $50,000 HORSE tournament in which Andy Bloch ripped some cards in half that had obvious marks on them, finally getting the attention of the tournament directors to put new decks in play. His argument was that it was ridiculous that such a prestigious event with a high buy in (in which Harrah's was making the equivalent of the gross national product of Mozambique in rake) did not have fresh decks in play.

I spoke to a friend Thursday and he put it matter of factly, "They need to protect the integrity of the goddamn game."

Harrah's is making a mint on the WSOP so you'd think they could splurge for another few thousand decks of cards. But if they want to pinch pennies, here's my solution: play with the decks for a few days and then sell them on eBay as game used WSOP decks. Collectors will snatch them up and Harrah's will make most of its money back on the cost of the cards, which can then be used to buy new nail and spot free decks.

2 comments:

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