Monday, March 31, 2008

Hardware Pick of March: KEM Cards

KEM CardsPoker has gotten too mainstream for anyone to get by hosting a regular poker game without a decent set of chips and cards. The first to go is the chips, those plastic disks from Wal-mart just don't fly anymore. If you are still using them, for god's sake buy some clay...but I digress. This is about the cards.

You don't want your chips plastic, but you do want your cards plastic. My recommendation goes to KEM cards, but really any plastic deck will work. They are far more durable than paper. It takes some real effort to bend or mark these, which is good considering they are much more expensive that paper decks. The economy of KEM shows in the long run in that they will last you for life. Okay, your mileage may vary, but they will last much longer than paper. You can even wash the cards when they are dirty, try doing that with paper.

Speaking of which, I have tested their aquatic ability. On one occasion my friends and I have used plastic cards to play a round of hold'em on submerged table in a pool. They were as good as new when we were finished.

They probably don't sell plastic decks in your neighborhood super-store, but never fear, you can buy anything on-line. If you want to go with KEM, you can buy yourself a deck here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Poker Limericks!

Playing poker with Grundy can be tough
Having luck is often not enough
He thinks that it's funny
That he takes all my money
Then he turns over his cards, it's a bluff!

When they made Joe they broke the mold
Or at least that is what I was told
But he always thinks I have nothing
Calls, suspecting I'm bluffing
Sees the nuts, when it's too late to fold.

Poker has gotten me into a mess
I need more money, but now I have less
I try really hard,
But never get the card
F this game, I'm back to playing chess.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Sit-n-goes are my favorite game structure for on-line poker. Tournament wins feel more rewarding to me than cash games, and I often don't have the time to invest in large multi-table games. I often don't want to invest money in cash games either. The main advantage of any tournament the set dollar amount you can lose.

For those of you looking for the big money and excitement of multi-table tourney's, sit-n-goes are the place to hone your final table skills. However, keep in mind some key differences. The final table of a large tournament will be considerably more aggressive than a sit n go table. This is because every player is already in the money and only focused on the biggest of prizes. Sit-n-goes feature a tighter climate until the bubble pops. Players don't tend to make risky plays until the field is narrowed down to three.

What is my secret of sit-n-go fortune? When you can tell you have a lose table, play tight—as fold almost every hand. No fun, sure, but you will probably make it to the last four without playing a single hand, then you will only need to win one solid pot to place. A couple more, and you take it all. Tight table you say? Then take advantage of the bluffing opportunities and you'll be the chip lead in no time.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Question of Morality, a Question of Karma

I realize that I am too nice of a guy, and knowing is half the battle. I also know a fair share of players that shouldn't participate in games of risk because they don't fit either one of my parameters for safe gambling. They are neither winning players, nor do they have disposable income. Their personalities range from irresponsible to compulsive.

I know both these things. As a result, I am sure to only play soft, social games with these friends. After all, I don't want to take their money. But what of the unnamed masses I play on-line? The strangers across the table? There is my crisis of conscious. How do I justify winning the cash needed for someone's hospital payment or kid's tuition?

I have thought about this, but don't worry, I don't play everyone soft. If I was that nice I'd be nice and broke. I have found another way to set straight my moral compass: philanthropy. During a winning streak, I set some aside to give to charity. I recommend you pick a charity to call your own as well. I know the fish bring it upon themselves, but if you are going to steal from the rich (or not so rich,) you should at least give to the poor.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Flush Draw Tutorial

Your suited connectors have hit the flop, well kinda. You are on a draw, lets say a flush draw, and the player ahead of you bets. Assuming the bettor is the only other player in the hand, I say you raise. Here's why.

Senario one: The bettor is bluffing you off the hand. A raise from you, I'm thinking a raise about the size of the pot, will make him fold. Period. You win the hand.

Senario two: The bettor hit the flop, probably a pair or two pair. He will either fold his hand thinking your hand is stronger, or he will call. The advantage with the call is that he probably won't bet the turn knowing your aggression with this hand, whether he improves or not. If your flush card doesn't hit the turn, you may want to not invest anymore to the pot until you see the river, which you probably will for free. After seeing both the turn and river there is almost a 50% you have found the flush. If you have, take down the pot, it's yours. If not, and your opponent has checked both the turn and river, there is a good chance you can buy it anyway.

The problems that can arise are few and unlikely, but you should always be aware of the unlikely. First, you may catch the flush on the turn and not bet your opponent out of the hand. If the river is also of the same suit and you don't hold the nut flush, be careful that your flush hasn't been outdone. Second, if there is a pair on the table, be aware that your opponent could hold a full house. Barring those unfortunate events, feel confident with your flush.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Rise of the Machines

A "bot" is a program designed to do some automated task usually over the interwebs. It is a robot without the metal shell. They have varying degrees of artificial intelligence ranging from the ability to call up today's weather to carrying on a conversation under the guise of a valley girl. You may have talked to them in you favorite instant messenger, fired at them in your favorite video game, or played against them in your favorite on-line poker room.



Poker bots and the bots of first-person shooters have some similarities. Both use AI to react to the human in an attempt to overcome. They have the ability to perform perfectly within the set of rules given. For example, a bot in the game Unreal can only jump as high or run as fast as the physics of the game allow, but they can exhibit perfect aim consistently if the game is set at the highest difficulty level. Likewise, a poker bot will only win when the cards they need fall, even though they can play with mathematical precision. A poker bot calculates probability, pot odds, implied odds, relative hand strength and the like better than the most pros. That's just how it is.

Best advice: don't play against bots. Unfortunately, you probably won't know when you are, so that advice is useless. Poker bots are prohibited by the poker rooms, but I still find some hacker-types manage to get some use out them before the site shuts them down. The other theory is that the sites themselves employ poker bots from time to time.

However, all is not lost. Humans do not have to submit to the machines. The bots play mathematically, not perfectly. Unlike in chess, humans can still win out. This is because of the intuitive aspect of poker. With a big enough database, the bot can access the one best move for every situation in chess, with poker they can't. Bots have a hard time computing bluffs--both when to execute bluffs and when to call. They have no tells but also can't read yours. Use this to your advantage. A little illogical play never hurts against our digital creations.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


SnakeThis time I'm reviewing a variant I actually do enjoy—Anaconda, specifically 3-2-1 Anaconda, aka "Screw Your Neighbor."

Anaconda belongs to the same family as Five Card Regret in my book. It involves decisions you may wish you could take back. The play proceeds as follows: Each player is dealt six cards down. You bet based on your hand. Then you pick three cards to pass to the player on your left as you receive three from your right. Betting round. Then you "pass the trash" again, this time two cards to your neighbor on the left and two from your right. Betting round. Finally, one more card is passed in the same fashion. The best five card hand wins. This game allows for eight players total, nine if you add two wild cards.

Logic says to pass your least promising cards—2s, 3s, and the like—but chances are that will be what the player to the right gives you. You'll be giving up on pairs or trips this way, hence the regret. I suggest that you hold on to weak cards in this game when the player to your right is unfamiliar with the game to avoid the heartache.

The game becomes more fun when you play with the same people and you can try to predict how your opponents will treat each other. When I pass a card, lets say a four, to my left during the first pass and the player to my right passes me another four...I'm faced with a dilemma. The regret has already set in, I've missed a chance at a pair. More than that, now I have a four again, which is useless to me, but I don't want to pass it knowing that the player to my left my still have my previous pass. Do I hold on to a useless card and pass another card which is more likely to improve my hand, or do I pass the trash and likely improve my opponent's hand? That is one of the many questions of Anaconda.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How Important Is Math?

It's guest writer time again! Introducing KC from Grand Slam Poker Source. As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently wrote an article there myself. I recommend that you check out his site along with his new forum of the same name. Now back to you regularly scheduled blog post. --Grundy

CalcI experienced something this past weekend that I never thought I’d live to see. I had to explain pot odds and hand percentages to somebody who calls himself a professional poker player. The mere fact that this happened terrifies me. How can a man who has over $100,000 in career winnings over the past eight years not know how to compute the simplest of pot odds? (NOTE: I’ll leave it up to you to determine if somebody who cashes less than 15 times in the past eight years should be considered a professional poker player.)

I started to question myself and one of my fundamental concepts of poker. Maybe math isn’t a major component of winning poker?

Then, I took a deeper look and considered what it was that I had to explain to him. The first hand involved my AKo vs. his pocket kings. We ended up getting all his money into the pot pre-flop. When I saw his pocket kings, I commented, “Oh, well, it could be worse. At least you don’t have aces. I’m still only about a 2:1 dog here.”

He laughed out loud at me and said I was nowhere near a 2:1 dog here. You only win this hand about 20% of the time. That should have been my first clue that I should not have let his lack of knowledge make me question my fundamental concepts of poker. I don’t care what type of importance a person places on math in poker situations – I believe most players would agree that you at least need to have a basic understanding of where you stand in a hand to make rational judgments.

After much discussion, I told him I was at least 30% to win the hand. As it turns out, I’m barely over 30% to win the hand, but that’s a lot closer to what I was guessing than him. My second clue that I shouldn’t worry about my belief that math is an important aspect of poker came at this point – at least not in regards to this conversation. He asked, “How does a 30% chance of winning make you a 2:1 underdog? That makes you a lot more of an underdog than that – more like 3.5:1.”

I was floored. Was this person really not able to convert percentages into ratios? As it turns out, he can’t.

After a lot of thought and analysis, I decided that this experience should not affect my opinion on the importance of math as it relates to poker. I still believe it’s a game that takes a basic understanding of math, people, and relationships. I still believe, the more you know about these things, the more you can incorporate them into your experiences. To put it simply, the more you know about these things, the more you will get out of your experiences. The more experiences you have, the more you have to draw upon when faced with decisions. These things can only make you better.

Until next time,


Friday, March 14, 2008

Legitimizing Poker

In his book, Ace on the River, Barry Greenstein says that if he won $10,000 one day and lost $5,000 the next, he considered himself making $5,000. He went on to say how his wife saw it as a $5,000 loss since they already had the $10,000. For tax purposes a judge weighed in saying that the $10,000 was taxable income while the $5,000 loss was a result of his gambling problem. These are three very different assessments of poker that resonate with me as I have come across the same myself, just with smaller stakes.

Of course, Greenstein was right. His wife was also correct in the fact that he should have stopped after the $10,000 profit, but with that attitude he wouldn't have won the ten grand to begin with, or the subsequent earnings that allowed for a very affluent lifestyle. The judge, I feel, was just looking out for the best interests of the state.

Poker involves gambling, so there will always be inconsistent results from week to week. I find that outsiders have a hard time accepting it as a game of skill. Just when my case for poker begins to make a dent in my nonplaying friends and family, a loss of any kind robs me of more than my money, but of my arguments legitimacy.

I remember how it felt to not understand how any game involving cards could have more to do with skill than luck. When I first started playing for nickels I wasn't just playing for fun, I was running an experiment. I played seriously to prove to myself that over time the more skilled player won at a higher rate. I didn't take long to prove. Once I was sure that poker was removed from the casino games of pure chance, my resolve to improve my skill was all the stronger.

Now that poker is on TV, the burden of legitimizing poker to my inner circle isn't all on me. They at least entertain the idea that some skill is involved; but more along the lines of 10% skill and 90% luck. Honestly, I've stopped trying to explain it. I proved it to myself, and they will have to do the same. I leave myself available to accelerate the process as mentor.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hell's Cold Wallpaper

1280x1024.jpgThe first round of Hell's Cold Day desktop backgrounds have arrived. They come in three sizes: 1152x864, 1280x1024, and iPhone or iPod Touch compatible. If you need the wallpaper in a different size, just let me know and I'll send it right over.

Please let me know what you think in the comments.

P.S. If you think I've been short on content this week, I do have new post written for

Updated: Additional wallpapers available on the Media page.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Go ahead and look that gift horse in the mouth.

So I'm playing a little on-line poker after a long day at work, minding my own business, when something catches my eye in the chat window. No, it's not someone baiting a bet with profanity hidden in glyphs...well, it is, but in addition to that—it is FullTilt announcing a tremendous promotion! If I am one of the first 100 people to follow the link and enter my information, I win a bonus of $1,000 to my account!

Are your skeptical alarms sounding yet? They should be. I decide trust my antivirus software and see where they are going with this. I follow the link.

Turns out the page looks authentic, not surprising. From reading about bank scams I know how easy it is to fake a page by looking at source code and taking a screenshot. It also turns out that I'm a winner, despite my very slow response time accessing the page. The information it requires is my screenname and account information. Account information like finanical account information. It was unclear if they planned on paying out the bonus directly into my bank account or it was just to verify the screenname, but both scenarios make no sense for a legitimit promotion. They wouldn't pay anything out of the site, they want to keep the money in play, free or otherwise; and the screenname is all the verification they ever need.

I imagine that if the site got what it wanted, it would load a message about needing a week or so to process the payment so I wouldn't suddenly get wise when I wasn't $1,000 in the green. I emailed FullTilt about the ordeal. The response confirmed that no such promotion was offered and assured me that FullTilt would never ask for such finanical information. I was hoping to read something about their efforts to eliminate these scams, but I guess it's not their problem.

They say you can't con an honest man. Cons say that at least. I'll say that cons work best on people who want to take the easy route, which is just about everyone. The best rule of thumb I can give you to avoid scams, poker related or otherwise­—if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Are pockets pairs as good (or as bad) as you think?

Up against an overpair? Well we knew that was bad, but looks like you can still expect to get lucky just under one in four hands. Check out the chart below and see if anything surprises you.

Chart 4