Wednesday, June 11, 2008

This Probably Counts as News about My Life

And so far, it's bad news, although I'm not reacting badly to it, at least yet.

About six months ago, I said something on a craps table that got me in trouble. Specifically: My boxperson and floorperson were both women, and were both complaining about how cold they were. I suggested that if they make out, they wouldn't be cold. Neither of them was offended by this. But the pit boss, who theoretically has a whole lot of tables to watch and shouldn't be paying attention to just one, overheard, and was offended on their behalf. All three of these people were people I joke around with, and the two women who the comment was about, weren't offended, as I said.

Nonetheless, the pit boss made everyone fill out an "incident report," which isn't a write-up but looks like one, and HR made me attend "sensitivity training" because of my comment. At the time, I thought, okay, this is bullshit, but at least everyone realizes that it's bullshit, I'll go watch their video and be done with this.

Fast forward to a week ago, Friday. Now I'm playing poker at the casino, I'm not even on the clock. I'm playing, having a pretty good day, enjoying the fine microbrews on tap at the bar closest to the poker room. One of the "poker hosts" (the closest analogue is to a brushperson at a poker room with actual dealers) is flagged down by someone else at the table, who wants to know how the list for Omaha, that he started, is faring. (They handle the lists for "other" games badly there, but that's outside the point.) The host says that she's "on top of it." Okay, now that's a straight line just too good to pass up, and I say that she "likes being on top."

The host, again someone who I joke around with, spins around and says, "You're crossing the line, there, buddy," and after a moment I'm convinced that she really was offended by me saying that. Okay, whatever. On my way out, after I'm done, I'm walking to the podium, where she is, intending to apologize, when I'm stopped by her boss, someone I've talked to a bit but don't know very well. Her boss informs me that the host was upset by my comment, and I said, basically, "Well, yeah, I know, I was going to apologize, but you just stopped me, and she went that way." Eventually I found the host and apologized. She said, verbatim quote here, "I accept your apology."

I'm back Saturday playing at the casino. Mind you, I'm a player, a guest at the casino at this point; I'm not on the clock while any of this is going on. I'm having a darn good day, up nearly four buyins. Now one of the shift supervisors for table games taps me on the shoulder and says that she needs to talk to me for a minute. This is somebody I know not at all; she's not on my shift and so I wouldn't know her. It develops that the host took things to the next level, filed an "incident report" on me, and I was being asked to fill out my own "incident report." The only people in the office with me are the table-games shift, the poker-room shift, and me, there are no other men in the room (which only occurred to me later, that men would think this is bullshit and it never would have gone as far as it did). I'm being told that this is not a write-up, yet, this is just an "incident report," it will go to HR, and they'll decide how to continue. But in the meantime, I'm banned from the poker room. (This last might have been important, but turned out not to be except in an offhand way.)

Now it's Sunday morning, and I report to work. I'm put on "High Tie Blackjack," a blackjack game with a side bet, that I don't deal a lot. As with all games I don't deal a lot, I'm winging it, and I'm not the smoothest dealer you've ever seen. The stupidest thing I do is that, on autopilot, I deal out a hand of baccarat, which is entirely the wrong game. Fortunately, the supervisor is standing right there, and it doesn't become an issue, other than to laugh about. (My guess is that since I was sitting down, my "autopilot" was set to "baccarat," and being distracted or whatever, I dealt out that hand on autopilot.)

Now it's about six o'clock, and I've been there for two hours. Another dealer taps me on the shoulder, which if it's not my usual relief usually means they need me for another game, generally craps or baccarat. Instead, I was sent to the shift office. My own shift manager and assistant shift are both there, regarding the "incident report" from a few hours earlier. Now, these are both men, so I expect to hear about how this is all bullshit, but instead, I hear that it's "out of our hands, out of our hands, out of our hands," which, reading between the lines, sounds pretty bad.

But it gets worse. As we're discussing this, my shift asks me "if, honestly, you can tell me that you're 100% sober right now." I say, "of course, sure," but as we're discussing how much I've had to drink and when, I end up deciding that it's possible I might blow a point or two on a breathalyzer, but nowhere near .08%. My shift supervisor—who, the whole time I'm there, everyone keeps praising as someone who'll go to the mat for his dealers—seems to believe that I'm drunk, and I end up getting escorted by security to the LaPorte hospital to blow a breathalyzer. It comes back .000%. I come back, and continue working. Nobody offers me an apology, anywhere up the chain of command that would have reported that I was drunk.

Monday and Tuesday are my days off, and I don't hear anything, so I go to work on Wednesday, which is a normal day other than all of my co-workers asking me, "Dude, what happened?" I discuss with a couple of people what my options are if I were to get canned over the situation, but otherwise it's a normal day. Oddly, I'm in the high-limit pit, so I go from being thought too drunk to deal, to being thought worthy of dealing to black-chip players.

On Thursday, I report to work, and sit down for my usual cup of coffee before I report onto the floor, shooting the shit with my co-workers (including about my situation). Then it's time to get up and receive our table assignments. I'm not assigned a table. This by itself isn't that unusual; often there are several extra dealers who do a bit of busy-work before sending home the people who've asked for an "early out." Once most of the dealers are on the floor, the "pencil," who assigns everyone to their tables, told me to go to the shift office. In the whole scenario, this is the only thing that I felt was actually handled well.

The shift manager and assistant shift are there waiting for me, and they tell me that HR told them to "SPI" me, which means that I'm "Suspended, Pending Investigation," which everyone in the room knows is code for "you're fired." It takes HR until this morning to actually call me and let me know that I was terminated, but that is the result nonetheless. (At no point during their purported "investigation" do they talk to me, so my "incident report" is the only time I get to put my two cents into the situation, and I had to argue with the other shift manager to be allowed to write the incident report the way I wanted to.)

A Political Rant

I'm calmed down now, but at the time I was pretty hot about all of this. I never went off on anybody, but it seems to me that I was treated pretty shabbily. First, there's an "incident report" about something that nobody was offended by, and then there was an "incident report" about something that should have ended with the apology. And I'm fired.

It's impossible to claim that either incident was sexual harassment, a claim of which is certainly what they feel they're protecting themselves from. First, neither incident was quid pro quo, meaning there was nothing offered for sexual favors, and second, I could not be said to be creating a "hostile work environment." In both cases, what I said was much milder than the things that are said to me and about me all the time, including on the very game where I made my initial comment. In the second case, both comments were made on the casino floor, where players say things that are worse than either comment every few minutes. If any of the women (or even men) involved were to press a sexual harassment claim, she'd have a tough row to hoe for that reason.

But that's not the point of my rant. My point is this: Are women equal in the workplace, or aren't they? If they're not equal, fine, let them go back to being secretaries and kindergarten teachers, but only until they get married. If they are equal, then they need to grow the fuck up about this shit! Neither comment would attract any attention if a man said it to a man, or even if a woman said it to a man. Only when a man says it to a woman is it a big deal. But if it's going to be a big deal, then women don't belong in the workplace.

A friend says that in an earlier age, this wouldn't be a problem, because people were taught a natural chivalry toward women. And that's true. But in that earlier age, women, by and large, weren't in the workforce! And even now, I am one of the few people I know my age or younger who actually do watch what I say and do around women; the small extent that I follow the code of chivalry is much greater than I observe anybody else doing. And yet I get fired over this.

I find it interesting that the casino was so worried about heading off a sexual harassment charge, that they wander into territory that is, at least, very close to being actual sexual discrimination. Men talk to each other that way all the time, and it's fine. Women talk to each other that way all the time, and it's fine. Women talk to men that way with frequency, and nobody complains. But if men talk that way to women, it's sexual harassment? That is the essence of sexual discrimination.

One has to look at the drunk thing, as an attempt to get me fired over something real, because they know or knew that their reasons for firing me are weak otherwise. A dealer at another casino, an old-timer, suggests that I should sue Four Winds for harassment, seeking money damages. I'm tempted, but one caveat is that unless the case can be filed in federal court, I'd have to fight the tribe in their own court. If someone here is a lawyer I'd be interested in hearing his opinion of the case.

Now What?

For the first time in a long time, I have enough socked away that I can ride out being unemployed for a while. Two options suggest themselves: I can go to work for another casino in this area, or I can go to work for another casino somewhere else, probably Las Vegas.

The closest casino to me that isn't Four Winds, is in fact hiring, and I have an application in there right now, but I haven't heard anything. My limited experience wouldn't be a handicap there; most of their dealers aren't brilliant. The Horseshoe, which is nearly an hour away, is expanding in August and opening a poker room, so if I wanted to get into poker, I probably could. I haven't applied there because of the distance; I'd have to figure out transportation if I were hired.

I'm also leaving tomorrow for Las Vegas, which was planned anyway for somewhere around now, and being fired frees me from having to ask for time off. While I'm there, I do plan to see if I can't talk myself into some auditions, somewhere off-strip probably. I put an application in with all of Vegas' Station casinos this morning, and (surprise!) haven't heard anything yet. (Most of their positions are listed as "on call," which I don't know what that means in regard to hours.) I attempted to apply at the Boyd casinos in Vegas, but my application in Michigan City interferes with that (same corporate parent, and the Web isn't that smart). I might apply at some of the lesser Strip properties, but really I need more seasoning before I'm ready to deal at a "real" casino.

All told, I think it's about 75% that I'll end up at either Blue Chip or Horseshoe around here, and about 25% that I'll end up in Vegas. But if I talk myself into an audition out there and it comes through, then I'll probably move (back) out there, making more money than last time at a job I enjoy more than last time.

On a whole 'nuther tack, it's also World Series time there, and there are several events going on while we're there (although not the Main Event). I may try to satellite into one or more tournaments. I don't have much expectation of finishing deep, but it could happen. If I make it deep into one of the tournaments, and make deep money, I'll have a whole other set of things to think about.

It'll be good, though.

I Thought This Was a Poker Blog?

Truthfully, not really, not even when that was all I really wrote about, and despite the name. But I do have things I could say about my game.

Fixed-Limit holdem seems to be dying out in this part of the country. Of the four poker rooms in the area, one has occasional $3/$6 games and one deals $5/$10 to $20/$40 pretty regularly. But the other two spread any fixed-limit rarely, if ever. What's taking over is max-buyin no-limit, particularly $1/$2. Over the last couple of months, I've taken the opportunity of a reasonably healthy bankroll to really spend some time at no-limit, specifically not playing any limit while I do this. It's taken a couple of months, but I do seem to be winning pretty regularly at the game now. I do have the occasional bad day, but it seems like most days I end up winning a buyin or two. I'll be interested to see my results while I'm in Vegas.

I've also played more tournaments lately than usual, and I think I'm doing about average at them: The occasional cash, and one win about a month ago. Despite my ambition to play a WSOP event, I really don't consider myself a tournament player. Gil says he enjoys them more than cash games, but I'm not sure even he could articulate the reasons why.

I actually stopped reading a poker book recently, one I borrowed from Gil so at least I didn't waste any money on it. It's something like Mike Caro's Most Profitable Hold’em Advice, with a subtitle about the "missing arsenal" or something like that. The problem I kept having with it is that he says "X is profitable," which is counter to accepted teachings and indeed to common sense, and then fails to explain it. One example is that he says you should check the river in last position if your opponent never bluffs. The only argument he offers is that by never bluffing, your opponent is playing incorrectly, so you benefit. This doesn't say anything about whether your opponent would call a value-bet, or anything else. You're left with the choice of taking his advice blindly, or ignoring what might be something real, because he doesn't explain it.

I'm taking Gus Hansen's book with me to Vegas.

  Thursday, May 01, 2008

They Named It Twice

Warning: No poker content here.

No, instead this is to be a trip report of a different sort. Over the last three days, my father and I drove to New York and back in order to see our Tigers beat the Yankees, and see Yankee Stadium in its final year.

I learned after my part of the trip was already planned that it was the last year for Shea Stadium also. I didn't buy tickets for Shea, and my father wasn't that interested, even though the Mets had a day game at home the day after the Yankee game we were attending. Truly, I wasn't terribly interested in seeing the Mets, either, except that I felt like as long as we were there, we should, since we're likely never again going to have an opportunity to see a game at Shea Stadium. What settled it is that my dad had appointments scheduled for Thursday, so it wasn't possible to see the game at Shea and make it back in time for him to keep those appointments.

In any case, we drove Monday toward New York. There wasn't anything terribly eventful about the drive, and we ended up staying off the freeway in Danville, Pennsylvania, about 2½ hours out of New York, and continued the next morning. As a road geek I noticed that Pennsylvania and New Jersey seemed to have more old road signs still in use than Michigan, but the best sign of the whole trip was about a dozen miles into New Jersey, where a sign said “Land of Make Believe, Next Exit.” (I have to assume that's an amusement park or something, but it was still funny.)

My father's GPS device guided us pretty expertly to Battery Park, at the southern end of Manhattan, so that we could play tourist during the afternoon and see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We had to drive around the block a few times to find a place to park, but I've had to do that in other big cities and I really wasn't surprised. The elevator to get the car to the appropriate level (rather than ramps) did surprise me a bit, though.

We boarded the boat to Ellis Island after going through security, and the boat went around the Statue of Liberty slowly enough that I feel like I saw that, too. I can't imagine that seeing the statue from the island is better than that; the boat had us at pretty much the perfect distance for viewing the statue. Any closer, and it'd be like sitting in the front row at the movie theater, trying to figure out what's what while putting a crick in your neck. I'm sure there were displays on the island, but of what, I don't know.

Let me say here that ten years ago, I would have been much more interested in the Statue of Liberty. I was a Libertarian during my political days, and—unsurprisingly—Libertarians hold the Statue of Liberty in high regard. It's the symbol of the party, it appears on nearly all of their correspondence, and I would have held it in high reverence. Today, it's just a statue, and while my politics are certainly still essentially libertarian, I'm more able to see the statue in its historical context. Maybe that makes it lose something for me, I don't know.

When the boat docked at Ellis Island, we went into the main building. It's not exactly as immigrants would have seen it, even if we docked at the same place (I don't know). Mostly, there's a big wheelchair ramp that sticks more than fifty feet out from the front of the building, that was (clearly) added during the refurbishment of the 1980s. We got inside, and … were disappointed. There were pieces of old luggage piled into a big display, and a few displays about U.S. immigration and emigration over the last 400 years, but basically it looked like a big empty train station. My dad commented that it was not like the pictures he'd seen.

We were probably going to give up and get back on the next boat, when I said, "Let's see what's up these stairs." And we emerged into the main part of the museum, and into the main hall of Ellis Island. We learned that the stairs we climbed were climbed by pretty much all of the people who came through Ellis Island, and that it was the first time they were examined for unfitness to enter the US (they might be marked for "lameness" if they limped up the stairs).

The museum displays, and the very existence of Ellis Island, piqued me politically for almost the exact opposite reason that the Statue of Liberty did. I hate unneccesary bureaucracy. I think if 3/4 of government workers lost their jobs it would be a good thing (and we'd hardly notice). And during most of the time Ellis Island was open, these people were going to get into the US. There were no quotas on immigration until the 1920s. The only legal reason to keep them out was unfitness (for one of several reasons), and the bureaucrats were looking for signs of that unfitness. (About 2% ended up beind denied entry for unfitness.) A number of immigrants were quoted as saying that going through Ellis Island aged one horribly, that one came out older than one went in. And for most people, they were only there a few hours.

I don't know if I'd come out of Ellis Island older, but I'd come out infuriated. And I say all of this favoring politically a pretty liberal immigration policy. If you want to come here, great; we just want to know who you are and make sure you're not going to blow us up. If you're going to stay, fine, but I'd like to stipulate that you don't get any federal benefits for some time period, maybe two years. And that's it. And for all the bureaucracy that immigrants faced at Ellis Island, I'm sure that (legal) immigrants today face worse.

Didn't You Say Something About Baseball?

When the boat got back to Battery Park, it was about 5:00, and the Yankee game was at 7. I noticed that at the entrance to the park were stairs to the #4 and #5 subway trains, and I knew from looking on the Internet earlier that it's the #4 train that goes right by Yankee Stadium. My suggestion at this point was to leave the car at Battery Park, and take the train up, but I didn't know what would happen if we tried to get our car out of the garage at basically midnight. We asked. The garage closed at eight. So, apparently, we were driving to the game. Both of us looked at this prospect with some dread, driving in Manhattan, but there are freeways up each side of the island, and the one up the east side (FDR Drive) was more convenient for us.

You know, even though that drive provided the only overall feel of Manhattan that I got that trip, I've got to say that you probably have to be crazy to end up with a city like that. We saw driveways curving around within inches of the freeway several times, and most amazing to me were the buildings built on top of the freeway. That strikes me as absolutely insane.

Surprisingly, we moved along fine up the freeway, and got to the Bronx pretty quickly. And this was at 5:00, when I'd have expected a bunch more cars to enter the road system as people get off of work. And even finding a place to park by the stadium, which the Yankees web site itself suggests will be darn near impossible, wasn't: There is a garage right next to the stadium, and it was less than $20 to park in it. I don't know what our situation would have been if we'd got there at 7:00, but at 5:30, we had no problem parking.

I was also a bit concerned about whether we'd find food by the stadium; the Bronx isn't Manhattan and I kind of expected a commercial wasteland. But the area around the stadium, at least, wasn't much different than other big cities I've been to, and we found a bar and ordered some beers and looked at the menu.

The menu is so crazy that I put it in my pocket. It's a single piece of cardboard the size of a postcard, with phrases like "We Carry Wiskies [sic] & All Liquors And Drinks." But the actual "menu" part of the menu is so weird I'll quote it here:


I got boneless fried chicken, which was what I expected, and rice & beans, which wasn't. It was a plate of white rice, and a bowl of soupy beans. I poured the beans over the rice, and it was in face quite good, but not the way I'm used to being served that. My dad ordered fries, and "chicken with bones," which he expected regular fried chicken, and I expected chicken wings. What he actually got was random hunks of meat on random bones, in his words, it was like they took a chicken and put it on a bandsaw to end up with golf-ball sized chunks of "chicken with bones."

The amazing thing was that this food, and four beers, came to $47. Okay, the menu mostly didn't have prices on it, and it's not like we were on a budget, but forty-seven dollars for bar food? Yee-ikes!

I Thought You Said Something about Baseball.

Okay, okay, I'm getting to that. We went into the stadium, and made our way toward right field, where I still think the Internet told me our seats were. They turned out to be in left, so we got a nice little walk around the entire stadium. That was okay, since we were there mostly to see the stadium. We weren't there early enough to walk through Monument Park; it's a little annoying that we couldn't even really see it from the grandstands, since we were close enough.

The game itself wasn't a particularly good game; both starting pitchers had trouble with the strike zone, and there were approximately 1,735 walks in the game (I might be off by a couple). Kenny Rogers walked the bases loaded once, and hit Derek Jeter to force in a run. Despite all of this, the Tigers offense hit well enough to win the game, including a Gary Sheffield home run that ended up in the hands of the fellow sitting next to me. I was probably on TV briefly for that home run. In the end, the Tigers won 6–4.

The ride home was uneventful, but I'm sure both of us wished we were staying closer to New York on the night of the game; we didn't get in until about 1 AM.

Go get ’em, Tigers!

  Monday, April 21, 2008

Greatly Exaggerated

It appears that I'm dead. At least, someone decided to post that I was, and since I haven't been updating this blog, his version stood. I have a fair guess who it was, and it was kind of funny, particularly since (with my computer down) I couldn't really respond, even after Iggy phones Gil out of the blue to ask what the hell.

Frankly, I haven't been updating the blog since I haven't found most of the last six months to be that interesting. I wake up, I go to work, I come home. A few times a week, I play some poker in there, too, almost exclusively live. But, even though I don't find it terribly interesting, I can update. This might turn out to be long, though.

Braving the Four Winds

If I remember correctly, my last post was just a couple of days after the casino I work at, opened. We're still open. And here's the real surprise: I still work there, and I'm not in any particular danger of being fired. This last is important, because our opening crew of dealers and supervisors has been cut by a third to a half, with possibly more departures coming.

Some of those departures were obvious: People who screwed themselves over somehow, usually with excessive absence but occasionally in more spectacular ways, like the dealer who showed up at work drunk off his ass, who blew a 0.23% BAC when they pulled him off the floor. There were also dealers who just didn't work out, almost always break-in (new) dealers. Those people were mostly offered jobs elsewhere in the casino, although it's got to be annoying to hear, "Maybe dealing isn't your thing. How'd you like to scrub toilets?"

We've also lost a good number of the experienced dealers that hired in, generally to other casinos. Some of this is the fault of the people doing the hiring: They set up unreasonable expectations among the dealers they hired. I think they had unreasonable expectations, based on some of the things one would overhear before we opened. When we were given the grand tour of the place in the days before we opened, we would be told, "This area, right outside the high-limit pit, is probably where we'll spread games not quite big enough to get people into high-limit—you know, like $100 a hand." The problem with not being wall-to-wall with high-rollers, as they seem to have expected, is that "ordinary" players don't tip as well. And some of the experienced dealers who came in felt as if they were promised tip rated of $30/hour or more.

Personally, I think they've made some bad marketing decisions (and the marketing director—he wasn't called that—was just fired, according to rumor), and it's true we don't see a lot of players playing at stratospheric levels. But I'm doing okay, monetarily. On the worst days I'm making $15/hour, and on the best days it can go over $30/hour. That's not bad for not working very hard.

If I indeed last wrote only a couple of days after we opened, then I'd at that time dealt only (mini-)baccarat. In fact, that's all I dealt for the first month we were open, until I started complaining. I spent 186 weeks learning dice (or whatever), and a day and a half learning baccarat, and what have I spent the last month doing? The shift manager agreed with me, absolutely, and I started getting on dice a couple of times a week.

To this day, I'm not perfectly comfortable on that game. I think it's primarily a function of not being on it much, even to this day. (The last couple of weeks I've not got a couple of days, but in fact a couple of hours of dice time.) I mostly don't have a problem with the math, but I don't always do things in the "right" order and it's not tough for players to flummox me with odd presses. For example, I set out $42 to pay a player with $36 on the Six, and he throws out a seemingly random amount of money and says, "Take it to $90." By the time I get to, "Okay, $36 plus $42 plus $12 equals $90, that makes sense," enough time has gone by that I'm holding up the game. We're really only talking about five seconds or so, but that's enough time that the guy on the other side of the table is done, and the stickman is ready to move the dice, and I've still got a couple more bets to pay.

In fact, this week the first round of promotions came up, and there was a sign-up sheet for people who were interested. Despite what I'd have thought when I started the job, I am interested. However, I'm not ready. The only game I feel fully proficient in is, unsurprisingly, the game I've had the most time on: Baccarat. I've had hardly any time at all (a total of maybe two days each) on the so-called "carnival games," which are the various poker-based table games. They aren't difficult, but it can be ugly for a while when I deal them, until I get my rhythm. I'm actually close to where I want to be at blackjack, but I still fumble around a little too much. Pai-Gow (poker, not tiles) isn't lumped in with the carnivals, but it's the only card game I don't deal. I don't deal roulette, either.

Even with all of that, I considered applying for the promotion. The step up from dealer is "dual-rate dealer/floor," usually just called "dual-rate" although there are other forms of dual-rate. The essence of it is that you act as a dealer sometimes, and as a supervisor sometimes, sometimes both during the course of a day. My plan in applying (I didn't do it) was not really to be promoted this time, but to be at the forefront of applicants on the next go-round. It was also to be able to lay before the heads of my department what would be called a "development plan" if I were higher on the food chain, to get me to where I need to be by the next round of promotions. Specifically, I wanted to ask for more time on dice, and to a lesser extent blackjack, and much less time on baccarat, in order to develop the proficiency on the other games to get me where I need to be. It was also barely possible that I'd get the promotion this time, with the intent that I'd learn on the job. My shift manager specifically, who is immediately below the vice-president level (and the top dog most of the time my shift is there), is the type of person who would much rather have someone who knows his limitations than someone who thinks he knows it all. But even so, it's so early in my casino career that it'd be quite unusual for me to be promoted unless I had a lot of juice with somebody (which I don't).

The last thing I can think of that belongs here in this section is about the poker room. I made many forecasts of gloom and doom for the electronic tables in the room. While I still think the room would be doing much, much better with live dealers, it is doing far better than I thought with the electronic tables. This past Saturday, of the sixteen ten-handed tables in the room, thirteen were in use. The high-water mark was fifteen in use, when a tournament was at the three-table stage (and I don't know if that was the start or the middle of the tournament). That probably sounds pretty good, but Soaring Eagle, which I've talked about often in this blog, on a typical Saturday night would have all eighteen(?) of its tables busy, with thirty to fifty names on the lists for each type of game. That room has less immediate competition, but is also farther from major population centers.

Even with the lukewarm success the Four Winds poker room has had, and it's all but killed the room at Blue Chip, it is not the premier destination for poker in the Chicagoland area. That (for the moment) is Resorts East Chicago, the former Harrah's, the former Showboat, the future Ameristar. (I'll talk more about that room later.) In September, the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana, a few miles closer to Chicago and home to the area's highest-limit games (and players), opens its new casino on a barge, with a zillion times the space as their existing boat, and according to rumor as many as 80 tables of poker when their room is completely ramped up (they have no poker now). The descriptions I've heard make this room sound as if it will be somewhere between Caesars' and the Venetian's rooms in Las Vegas, in style and size. It's expected that the action at Resorts will mostly move to the Horseshoe when that happens, and that most of the other rooms in the area will feel a serious bite. (It may not affect us as much, being that we're pretty far from Chicago as it is.)

Jeezus, Man, Don't You Do Anything but Work?

Well, in one sense, no. I'm playing less poker overall than I did before I came down here, primarily because I'm hardly playing online at all. (More on that in future blogs.) But I still go play live several times a week.

Initially, particularly before Four Winds opened, my play was primarily at Blue Chip casino, and was primarily $3/$6 limit. Even for some time after we opened, I primiarily played at Blue Chip, with the occasional excursion to Four Winds (we can play where we work, subject to certain restrictions).

But then, a few months ago, we hit a bad beat jackpot at Blue Chip. More important, Gil got the winner's (or "small") share, about $7000. Since Gil had had a windfall, and I had money from my table share but mostly from, you know, having a job, I suggested that we try playing a little higher, at Resorts.

Resorts' room is cramped and dingy, but also has (at the moment) the most variety of games, and the biggest games, of any of the casinos east of Chicago. (I can't speak for west of Chicago, but I'm told none of the Illinois casinos are very good for poker because of the legal situation in Illinois.) Resorts is the only casino between Milwaukee and Michigan that still regularly spreads limit holdem, at $5/$10, $10/$20, and $20/$40. They also regularly spread $5/$10 no-limit, as well as $1/$2 and occasionally $2/$5. Omaha usually goes on the weekends, in various forms, and here's the real shocker: They almost always have two tables of $1-$5 seven-card stud, the only casino I'm aware of besides the Mirage where that's the case. And I haven't been to the Mirage in a couple of years, so even that might have changed.

Gil and I played $10/$20 limit, and we both killed the game. I think that first trip I made about $700 and Gil made about $400, or maybe it was the other way around. In terms of bets, these were decent but not spectacular wins, but until then we'd mostly been playing $3/$6, where a $400 day is astoundingly good. So in our minds we both killed the $10/$20 game. And we were surprised that the game wasn't really that tough.

So we came back a few times. Mostly, our results continued well. Once I came with co-workers and took $1200 out of that $10/$20 game. We've had reversals since, but we're both amazed that we've been doing so well at a game that we would have considered a "someday" step only a few months ago.

My thoughts are that we've never really considered how bad the effect of the rake is at $3/$6. I'd always thought that, well, yes, the rake is proportionately quite high, but that's made up for by the much weaker players one sees at $3/$6. But maybe the reason we weren't killing the game for as much as we thought we should be before we moved up, are structural in the game itself. Note that I'm not saying, "You can't win at $3/$6 because nobody folds," because that's absolutely not the case. The person who says that is usually someone who comes from a no-limit background, or from a background of tougher games, where they learn plays that won't work in low-limit games. I continue to believe that $3/$6 is fundamentally beatable by building pots when you have the best of it and folding when you don't. But maybe I've been underestimating the effect of the rake, or something else that I haven't considered.

The other thing we've been doing lately is experimenting more with no-limit. This is probably something I should have started doing two years ago, but at that time there were still limit games readily available, and limit was (and is) my better game. But the pool of limit players is drying up, or playing no-limit, such that both Blue Chip and Four Winds get limit games of any kind going only rarely. Fortunately, Four Winds offers $100-max no-limit with 50¢ and $1 blinds, the lowest-blind no-limit I've ever seen spread. We've both had some okay sessions in that game, but mostly our results have been spectacularly negative.

I consider it tuition.

  Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Month in the Life of a New Casino

There have been a number of good points for me to write this post. But at no point was there really a time where something earth-shatteringly interesting which demanded to be blogged. So, here we go: A rambling, disjointed post with dozens of marginally interesting points. Good luck.

When last I wrote, I had finished my first day of actual dealing, dealing mini-baccarat. (I've since read that Wikipedia article, and apparently the version of baccarat in North American casinos is the least interesting version. Go figure.) At the time, I thought dealing baccarat (which we generally call "bacc" (sounds like "bock") or "mini-bacc" rather than baccarat) would be an occasional thing, since I had spent umpteen weeks learning dice, and a day and a half learning baccarat. Wow, was I wrong.

To date, I have dealt almost exclusively mini-bacc. With an hour here, two hours there, and a relief string another day, you can add about a day and a half of blackjack to that. Finally, about two weeks ago, after good-naturedly complaining to a number of people that I'm theoretically a dice dealer, I talked to our shift manager, who is for most of our time there, the highest-up person at the casino. Other people tell me he's about the best shift manager they've worked for, and I don't disagree, but he's "not my type of person," which I'm not really sure what I mean by that. In any case, he agreed with me when I suggested that I needed to get on dice damned soon, or not at all, before I just forget it all. So I've now been on dice a grand total of a day and a half.

That could have been a lot worse. There are procedural things I did wrong, but nothing too serious; I only made one serious money mistake and that got fixed. On "base," though I was far from flawless, I was as smooth as I remember from class. On "stick," I controlled the game well enough, and booked my bets more or less right, I'm more than a little fuzzy about paying some of the center bets (the ones that are basically combinations of the 2, 3, 11, and 12). But with multiple people at the table, it's easy enough to ask for help. I'm scheduled for dice again this morning, and I'm not as nervous as the last time.

When I see dealers at other properties (mainly the Blue Chip) dealing bacc, they seem to hate it; their whole being seems to say that they wish they were anywhere other than with these stupid bacc players. But truly, I don't mind it. I have regulars, who 70% of them are actually pretty decent people (or seem that way, when I can understand their accents). And I get to sit down, which is a bigger deal than you'd think (did I mention that I'm fat?). My biggest problem with dealing bacc is ass sweat; our dealers' chairs are leather (or leatherette), and don't breathe at all. Now I know why I see so many poker dealers with either towels or ass-pillows to sit on: It's to keep down the ass sweat.

In our high-limit area, we have a couple of baccarat tables, as well (actually, that's all baccarat and blackjack), and they're labelled as "midi-baccarat," with a "d," to distinguish from mini-bacc. It's the same game, exactly, except that the players themselves get to flip over the cards. And many of them are totally nutbar about it; they crimp and crush the cards every which way in order to create the most drama for themselves about what the cards are, or maybe they really think they can change what the card is by turning it ninety degrees and crimping it again a different way. Needless to say, the cards are retired off that game after a single time through the shoe.

The most annoying thing about dealing bacc is that the players take a looooong time to place their bets. Ostensibly, they're looking for patterns in the past hands to determine what the next hand will be. I suspect that most of them know just how foolish that is, but do that because the social situation at a bacc table demands that they pay attention to it. I also know for a fact that some people really believe their analytical powers can determine the next hand based on the preceding hands, and study like they're trying to decipher the Rosetta Stone. But more often, they're waiting to see which way everyone else bets, or, if the table is divided into more than one group, socially, then the way their social group bets. If the latter happens it is usually between white people and Asian people. (I assume that the Asians are mostly Chinese, because they all assume that anyone else Asian, understands their language. Vietnamese is the only other likely "universal" language, and it doesn't seem that would be all that universal.)

I probably mentioned large bets with my opening-night report. Bacc players tend to bet pretty obscene amounts of money on, essentially, flips of a coin. I've taken, now, three or four bets of $2000 or more ("Orange [chips] in action!"), the largest being (I think) $2655. (Quick, without a calculator, what's $2655 less 5% commission?) A couple of days ago I also had the experience of giving out nearly $10,000 in two hands; a player was making large bets on long-shot propositions at the bacc table (a "bonus" bet, and the tie), and hit a couple of them in a row. It's fun to yell "orange out," I've gotta tell you. Once I even sent a grey ($5000) chip out when a player colored up, the first time I'd even touched those chips despite them being in the racks of the high-limit tables. Last night I had my highest blackjack player (remember I've not dealt much blackjack), playing two hands at $500 apiece. Unfortunately, I utterly destroyed her, and all the rest of the blackjack players I had tonight.

In the casino as a whole, things continue to seem more than a little disorganized. Our "toke" (tip) rate seems low compared to what I expected, but this seems to be because they're still scheduling too many dealers compared to the play they're actually getting. While this is better than the reverse, they need to do a better job of forecasting how much play they'll get. I assume this will come with time, but the scheduling office itself has been in disarray since we opened, with a revolving door of people working in that office. Lately the rumour is that the people who've had so much difficulty getting our paychecks right, have put in to move down to scheduling. If they consider that it will be less hassle, they're wrong.

Some of the things that were left unfinished when we opened, are still unfinished. The best example is that there are (at least) two waterfalls in the building, one in front of the seafood place ("Swimm") and one in front of the high-limit pit. I've seen the one in front of Swimm working once, but then it was turned off because, apparently, it leaks. The one in high-limit wasn't even finished being built when we opened. It is now, but I've never actually seen water running through it. I wonder if it, similarly, leaks. That speaks to poor design, probably, but after a month they should have had that set. And the funniest example of disorganization of all is that we had no roulette wheels at all when we opened. The tables were there, the chips were there, but the wheels themselves were nowhere to be seen. Supposedly they were stuck in customs, which I guess could happen, but it would seem that they would have had the roulette wheels in place, or at least on hand, for weeks before we opened.

Other employees who've opened other casinos (I hear thirdhand) have said that opening those casinos was a blast, but thus far, they say, this one has been a pain in the ass. So the level of disorganization may be unusually high. I've been told, also, that high-limit players tend to stay away from casino openings because of that disorganization. If so, our toke rates can only improve.

I've been asked in Email about how the situation in the poker room is playing out. The answer, unfortunately, is that I don't know. When I get there at 4 AM, there are one to three tables going, and when I leave at noon, there are one to three tables going. Sometimes in between there are no tables at all. Unfortunately all that doesn't mean much; it'd be much more instructive to know how they are doing in the evening, particularly on the weekends, at the room's peak times. And that, I don't know. People who work in that room are adamant that the PokerPro tables are there to stay, but ultimately it's not really their decision. I bumped into Four Winds' room manager at Blue Chip, checking out his competition, and pointed out that the players in the Chip's room are there because they hate the idea of the electronic tables, or, if they've tried them, hated the tables themselves. He said that even so, he had five tables going, and the Chip had two.

When I recounted the conversation to Gil later, he said, "Yes, but how many people were in each casino as a whole? As busy as Four Winds has been, there should have been fifteen tables going there." And I didn't think, at the time, to make that point; whatever I did in fact say seemed to piss off our poker room manager, so maybe I shouldn't bring that up again soon. It's also occurred to me, since, that with live tables Four Winds would have had seven tables and the Chip would have had zero. It really is a nice casino.

I've heard two (contradictory) rumours about the room. One of them is that sometime as of some date in September, they can get out from under the leases on the PokerPro tables. If this is so, it seems to me that this date is too early. Attendance in the room, for most of September, will still be inflated by the number of people who go once to give the PokerPro tables their shot, who will decide they don't like them. In September, those people who will never come back to electronic tables will still be counted among people who play those tables. My own anecdotal evidence, talking to players at Blue Chip, is that there are a lot of those players.

The other rumour is exactly the same, except that the date in question is six months from our opening. This would be good for the casino, in my opinion, because I think (still) that by that time it will be painfully obvious that the electronic tables were a mistake. However, I suspect that the September date is more likely, and that sometime before the six months are up, the casino will have to eat the cost of those tables.

Now, all of that said, there are players in that room. Some of them are there day after day. So there are obviously people who are perfectly okay with those tables. So, it's entirely possible that all of my griping about the tables is simply wrong. But I don't think so. I think, with live dealers, they'd already be talking about expanding the poker room.

There are probably plenty of little stories I'd meant to eventually post, but am not thinking of right now. Possibly, the next couple of posts will be little amusing anecdotes from the last month that I just remembered to post. Also, a friend of mine who also works there, is returning to the blogosphere, and her impressions might be of interest as well: http://www.fireflythegreat.com.

(This might sit a day or so. My internet connection is all wonky at the moment.)

  Friday, August 03, 2007

Survival of the Fattest

I expected to write this yesterday.

After writing my last post, with opening-night jitters, I expected to write yesterday that everything went okay. But I never dealt a hand on Thursday morning.

During the afternoon and evening of August 1, the casino was open for various special audiences: The tribe in the afternoon, and VIP's in the evening. Then, at midnight, the casino was open to the general public. However, all of the promotional material said that we would open at noon on August 2. So, when I got there at 4 AM, the casino mostly had holdovers from the night before, and not many of those. At the slowest point of the morning—probably around 7:00—there were maybe 25 customers in the entire casino. And all the dealers of the graveyard (excuse me, "sunrise") shift were there. With the other employees, the customers were probably outnumbered five to one or more.

So I never dealt. There were two games going in the pit I was assigned to, when I got there, and two other dealers tapped into those tables. So I went on break, preparing to come back and relieve one of them. I found, instead, that they were preparing to close down Pit 2 completely, and they sent me into Pit 5. When we got there, the pit manager looked at us agog, since he had at least 15 dealers he didn't know what to do with.

We ended up doing makework. In this case, it consisted of setting up decks for the day shift, so that it wouldn't take as long to get tables open for them. This is normally something that the dealer opening the table does, so it truly was makework. At a little after 11:30, with all the tables prepared to open, we were told we were done for the day. People had been coming in pretty steadily, and when I passed the front entrance of the casino, I saw a pretty long line of cars backed up to turn in.

I reported today expecting the casino to likely be rather busy. I never did get a handle on how busy we were, overall, but my pit stayed pretty hoppin’ all morning. Other people told me that they weren't that busy, though, so maybe I was the lucky one. And, bear in mind, it was early in the morning.

I reported to Pit 2 this morning to be assigned rapidly to a mini-baccarat game. This is a game which superficially looks a bit like blackjack, but it really comes down to simply deciding whether the player hand will win, or the banker hand, or that they'll tie. The players have no say in whether either the player or the banker will draw to improve their hands. My job is simply to pull out four to six cards, and then take the losing bets, and pay the winners. "Player" and "Banker" bets pay even money, but a winning "Banker" bet must pay 5% commission on the winnings. In practice this simply means that a player who bets $20 is only paid $19. (Some other casinos keep track of the commission separately, and a player must pay his cumulative commission before he leaves.) The "Tie" bet, when it wins, pays 8 to 1 (or, on some tables, "9 For 1," which means the same thing), and "Player" and "Banker" bets push. Our tables also have a bonus bet (the "Dragon Bonus"), which can pay as much as 30 to 1, although I never paid more than 10 to 1 on it.

Baccarat players skew heavily Asian, as I've stated, and in fact I dealt to quite a number of them. But the three longest-tenured players on my table were all middle-aged white men, all of whom were averaging more than $100 a hand. One of them, who had been at the table about fifteen hours when I left, frequently bet between $300 and $800, with the occasional $1200–$1400 bet. One of the Asians, a woman whom I have to say that I was ruthless to with the cards, made repeated bets of over $1000, including one $1600 winner I got to pay. In fact, most of the Asians ended up losing their shirts at my table. One fellow said it had been a bad night for him, and we all smiled and nodded, and then he brought out three or four (empty) bank wrappers to prove it. That was fairly impressive.

I was indeed nervous when I sat down, but not nearly as much as I would have been the night before. In fact, it had pretty much dissipated after the second hand. Although I know for a fact I overpaid a player at least once, the single biggest mistake I made that was really and truly my fault was on my first "Banker" winner, when I paid everyone 1:1 on their bets (did not take the commission). But the players took them, making it difficult to reconstruct, and I just ended up treating it as "lesson learned" and moving on. Surveillance probably made a bunch of little notes on me, with some of the mistakes that I made, including that one. Other "mistakes" I made were just areas where I was unsure of procedure; often when I didn't know the procedure for something I just did it in my own stumbling way, and I'm sure I'll hear about those eventually.

Overall, I think I did fairly okay today. One of the pit bosses said that she couldn't tell that I'd never dealt before, which was good, particularly with how nervous I was before it happened. To those who told me "you'll be fine," you were right. Fortunately, I knew you would be, and my nervousness therefore never rose to the level of a full-on panic. There were probably others for whom it did, but I never heard any stories about that.

I don't know if I might be confirming a stereotype, here, but almost none of my Asian players tipped me. Occasionally one of them would put out a 25¢ bet for the dealers, but those almost always lost. I think one Asian player put out one $5 bet for the dealer, and it lost. Most of my tokes came from the fifteen-hour guy, who would occasionally toss me $25, and probably toked $200ish while I was there.

For those who are curious about the poker room, there were two tables going when I got there (a $3/$6 limit and a $1/$2 no-limit), but the limit game broke up during the morning. When I left, there were two tables again, but I didn't see whether the second might have been another $1/$2 game (as I assume). Nobody seems to know anything about the Royal-over-quad-Fours promotion I mentioned in my last post, so that seems to be disconfirmed, wasting all of the math that I did (that probably nobody looked at anyway). Not only is the bad-beat jackpot for Holdem seeded with $44,440, but the secondary jackpot was, as well, and the primary and secondary Omaha jackpots, for about $167,000 seeded into those player jackpots. I forgot to find out what the qualifiers are; I still suspect they're rather low.

Oh, and I'm not actually the fattest: There are at least two table-games people on my shift who are fatter than I am. But whichever of them is the fattest, probably survived, too, so my headline still works.

  Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Less than Twelve Hours

Okay, I admit it: I'm nervous as hell.

I know intellectually that I have nothing to worry about. I'm not the only break-in dealer. There are in fact a whole freakin’ lot of break-in dealers on my shift. And I'm as comfortable as I could be, with the game(s) I expect to deal tonight. (Read: I'm no expert.)

I even know that whatever mistakes I make tonight will be expected, and to some degree, tolerated. I won't be the only one making them.

But I'm still nervous.

Perhaps I can attribute some of it to new-job jitters. That wouldn't quite seem to apply, though: I've been around the property for months, and I know the people I'm going to be working with. Those ordinary causes of new-job jitters don't apply.

You know, suddenly I have an insight: I know that I don't like looking foolish in front of strangers. (Weirdly, I mind less looking foolish in front of people I know.) If I am indeed dealing Baccarat tonight (I don't remember whether I posted that earlier, or not), a bunch of Vietnamese players will be strangers twice removed.

I claim some familiarity with poker players as a class. And we're generally pretty good to break-in dealers, as long as we're not paying time, and helping them out when a situation happens that's new to them. Even when a dealer, experienced or not, makes a significant mistake, then once it's corrected, we generally don't have a problem moving on. I have no reason to expect that players of other games, as a class, are any more or less tolerant or helpful than poker players. Intellectually, this should reassure me.

I might be okay after dealing two or three hands of Baccarat or after two or three rolls of the dice, reassured that I know what I'm doing.

But for now, I'm still nervous.


I've noticed something in a couple of people's reaction to learning that the poker tables at Four Winds will be electronic. Both of the people I'm thinking of are over sixty, and thus didn't grow up in the computer age, and this is probably important in an understanding of their point of view.

Both of these people assume that somebody in the poker room knows what cards everybody has. One person, a man who's probably in his early seventies, assumes that "somebody has to be running that computer" and thus that person knows what cards everyone has and is perhaps responsible for giving them their cards in the first place. Another, a woman who's probably in her early sixties, gets there by assuming that whoever programs the computer either gives everybody their cards or, at least, knows what cards they're going to get.

This is a fundamental misapprehension of how a computer works, but I don't think I could educate them in the space of a paragraph even if I was motivated to make such a speech. More, it bespeaks yet another problem with getting people to accept the PokerPro tables. My forecast that those tables will be seen to have failed in a matter of months, I think is reinforced.

I don't believe that I previously posted that the poker room's bad beat jackpot is being seeded with $50,000 (presumed), including $44,000 (known) into the main (primary) jackpot. It's a state secret what hand must be beat, which leads me to believe that the qualifier is pretty low. I'd be surprised if it's less generous than that Aces full of Tens (AAATT) must lose.

I also heard an unverified rumour last night that there is a very specific jackpot in place in the poker room: According to this rumour, if quad Fours (Four of a Kind, Fours) is beat by a Royal Flush, everybody at the table it hits on, is given one million dollars. Of course, as an employee, I'm almost certainly not eligible for this jackpot if it hits, but I have a specific concern about that jackpot. It's large enough that it encourages cheating.

I can think of at least two ways to cheat that jackpot, one of which is barely cheating and one of which is absolutely, positively cheating. First, the tables’ software runs on Windows XP, and they are controlled by some sort of wireless connection. Assuming the latter is just an ordinary WiFi network, one might be able to hack one's way onto the network. I am far from a Windows guru, but Microsoft's products are notoriously vulnerable and buggy, and it might be possible to exploit those vulnerabilities in order to modify the PokerPro software.

Second, the money is enough that it might be worth it to create a syndicate whose sole purpose is to hit that jackpot. If the stakes are low enough ($3/$6 should be fine), and players fold unless they're dealt pocket fours or suited Broadway cards, they can get a whole lot of hands out in an attempt to hit that jackpot. Some people might remember that when PartyPoker's bad beat jackpot was at $750,000, there were four tables of $3/$6 that were attempting to do exactly that (they failed). Hitting the jackpot would probably require months of play, at least, but for ten million dollars, more than a few people would be willing to do it.

Here's my attempt at working out how likely this jackpot is to hit on any specific hand. The likelihood that a given person will be dealt pocket fours is 1 in 221 (4/52 × 3/51). I therefore assume that the likelihood that the likelihood that one person at a ten-handed table will be dealt pocket fours is 10 in 221, or 1 in 22.1. (That may not be a valid assumption.) Given that those two fours are dead, the likelihood that a given person will be dealt suited Broadway cards is 1 in 30.625 (20/50 × 4/49). Given the same dubious assumption I made about the fours, the likelihood that one of the nine remaining players will have suited Broadway is 9 in 30.625, or 1 in about 3.4. Therefore the likelihood that the deal will give two players jackpot-eligible hands is about 1 in 75 (22.1 × 3.4). In some subset of those hands, more than one player will have suited Broadway, and in an even smaller subset, those hands will interfere with one another, making a jackpot impossible. I'm going to ignore all of that. It also turns out not to matter, for purpose of calculation, whether other players have "stopper" cards blocking the jackpot-eligible hands from winning the jackpot. We only need to work out how likely it is that the board will come with the five exact cards you need to hit the jackpot. For that, I get 1 in 1,712,304 (5/48 × 4/47 × 3/46 × 2/45 × 1/44). Multiply the two together (75 × 1,712,304) and you find that on any particular hand, the likelihood that you will hit the jackpot is 1 in 128,422,800. (For the paragraph below, I'm going to call that number J.)

If we were to assume that the syndicate I posited was able to get 200 hands through in an hour, playing as I suggested, it would take 642,114 hours (J / 200) to play that many hands, or about 73.3 years (642,114 / 24 / 365) of continuous play. If the syndicate filled up the 15 non-headsup tables, they could get that down to below five years, but that operation would require at least 600 people (150 players at a time, in three shifts, with another shift's worth of people for backup and days off), and ten million dollars split 600 ways means that each of those 600 people gets only $16,666, for five years’ work. Of course, it wouldn't be exactly five years. In about 2½ years of constant play, the jackpot would be 39.3% likely to hit at least once [ 1 − ( 1 − 1/J)J/2 ]. In five years, 63.2%. Make it ten years and the number becomes 86.5%. In twenty years of constant play, the jackpot would be 98.2% likely to have hit at least once. (For the later calculations just change the exponent).

The long and short of all that math is that the syndicate idea wouldn't work. So, you'll just have to hack the system.

  Monday, July 23, 2007

On Myriad Things: An Update

There's actually going to be very little about me in this post. Mostly, it's going to be about the continuing saga of the opening of Four Winds Casino.

With the casino opening to the public only a little more than a week from now (midnight, the night of August 1), people are scrambling to get things ready. In truth, they have a little less than a week, because there are various pre-opening events that essentially require a fully functional casino. So we're starting to see some of the things that bespeak an imminent opening: This morning, a full cart of liquor passed me in the hall on the way to one of the bars.

I've lost some of the feelings of impressiveness about the casino as a whole, because I've been there for a while now, but there are specific things that continue to impress me. The "corridor" on which the retail lies, is impressive in its design and length. The atrium as you come in from valet is fairly impressive. The porte-cochère—basically a fancy French word for "carport," where valet parking is—I can see how it would be impressive, but it doesn't do much for me personally. The high-limit table-games section is impressive, though. It evokes my idea of what a European casino looks like, with the games themselves around the outside, and floorpeople walking around on the inside acting as hosts. There's even a VIP area behind the normal high-limit area, with a private entrance, private bar, and (I'm told) private bathrooms, and the room can be shut off from the lowly pæons playing only $500 a hand. Even the entrance to high-limit looks as if it will be impressive as hell, and it's not finished yet.

The expensive restaurants—a steakhouse and a seafood place—strike me as small for a casino, but I rarely eat at the expensive places when I'm out, so I don't know. The buffet is large enough, I think, but there might still be long lines during the peak times. I have no opinion as to the adequacy of the other restaurants. We've eaten at the buffet a couple of times, now, and the food is certainly the best buffet food I've had at a casino in the area, and only the Wynn can I say was definitely a better buffet, of those I've had. My guess is that the buffet will be eight to ten bucks cheaper than the Wynn, too.

Including the high-limit room, there are five table-games pits. Pit two is the most interesting, because it heavily features mini-baccarat and pai gow, two games heavily favored by the Asian gambler. (Wynn Macau is said to have more baccarat than blackjack.) The craps pit has eight tables, several of which are "Bonus Craps" (with six extra bets in front of the boxman, one of them paying 175:1), and one of which is Crapless craps (where 2, 3, 11, and 12 set a point rather than win or lose). The crapless table has the bonus bets, as well. It suddenly occurs to me that I don't know the total number of tables in the casino. It could easily be over 50. Add a few more, if you include the "Rapid Roulette" and similar games, of which I've seen three (roulette, baccarat/sic bo, and I don't remember what the third is).

When they put the felts on the non-bonus, non-crapless craps tables, a major mistake turned up: The 3 and 11 were shown as paying 30:1 (on a 16:1 shot). Since this normally pays 15:1, and paying it double would cause a whole lot of people to quit their jobs and become professional "yo" players, I have to assume that there's a rush order in place to get new felts before we open (and a lot of hard words being exchanged).

Our last week and a half has been in the casino itself, and during that time the experienced dealers and floorpeople have arrived. That number includes a number of people who've dealt to me at other casinos, including Soaring Eagle (at least four) and Manistee (at least two). This has been very good for us "break-in" dealers, actually, because we have one-on-one instruction for the first time since class began many weeks ago. I go from feeling like a genius, to feeling like a doofus, on a roll-by-roll or even bet-by-bet basis. Some dealers have got more practice than I have, but I'm generally happy with how much attention I've got.

This week has begun us being on our "right" shifts, so I'm reporting at 4AM (and working 'til noon). They say that they still don't have the days off worked out yet, but almost certainly next weekend will be the last Saturday and Sunday I have off, for a long time. So far, I'm liking the "sunrise" shift; it is indeed mellow, which is what I wanted. But I'm sure, with my lack of a sleep schedule, that the day is not too far off—a matter of weeks at most—that I'll really be hating waking up at 3AM. I hope that I can handle it as well as, well, I hope. In fact, the biggest problem with the sunrise shift so far is that, with it more important to get the employees up to speed on the buffet than it is on the employee dining room, they've had us eat in the buffet—which doesn't open until 10AM.

Today I finally had an opportunity that I've wanted since I heard that the poker room was going to consist of entirely electronic PokerPro tables: I got a chance to play on one. It wasn't really a true test, in that the players were playing more than a little bit stupid with fake money, but I did get to see them in action. I have to preface this by saying that I was predisposed to not like the tables, but not only did I not see anything to change my mind, I saw several things I disliked about the tables that I hadn't even thought of. Here is someone else who didn't like them. I didn't have the same problems that he did regarding the touch-screens, and in fact he seems to have seen a slightly different version than I did, but otherwise I agree with all of his problems with the games. One thing I noticed as well was that the game went too quickly; there wasn't time for the social banter between hands that is truly a big reason that many people go to poker rooms in the first place.

In short, I think they have a real problem with the electronic tables. I think after the honeymoon period of people trying out the tables, they'll have difficulty filling a single table with cash-game players. They may, however, have some moderate success with tournaments, especially if they run very low-buyin ($20 or less) tournaments that the electronic tables enable them to run. But nothing like the success they could have with human dealers. It's therefore not a question of if they get rid of the electronic tables, but when, and what they're going to do for poker players to apologize for the electronic tables.

A couple of tidbits: The maximum rake seems as if it will be $3 per hand, although I was unable to tell if it was a 5% or 10% rake (the pots were too big with fake money). They are also dropping $1 for the bad-beat jackpot, which I'm told they will start at $44,000. It's also looking like employees will be able to play, but probably limit only and probably only as high as $10/$20 (if they ever get action that high, which I doubt until the PokerPro tables are destroyed). There are logistic problems with allowing us to do that, but they're apparently working those out. We probably won't be eligible for the bad beat, but they'll probably drop the dollar out of our pots anyway.

Despite this, I do feel obligated to play there at least sometimes. I feel that my predisposition against the electronic tables requires me to give them every possible chance to succeed. (I also want to build up some "juice" to make sure that I can get into the poker room whenever the electronic tables actually do go away.) So, if they actually spread some low-limit limit games, once I'm getting real paychecks, I do expect to be in there once a week or so.

While we're mocking things this week, I want to see how seven-card stud works on the tables, and I want to—but probably won't be able to—try out an actual limit game where the players are taking things reasonably seriously. I expect stud to be horrible but I might be pleasantly surprised at how a limit game works. I only hope to get the opportunity.

The next thing that I have to look forward to, now, is August 2.

  Saturday, June 30, 2007

Weekend Update

We were officially hired by the casino this week. In fact, we had two days of orientation at the New Buffalo high school, a group of about 75 of us. Although we did the normal stuff, filling out of forms and such, they also had an eight-hour timewaster about how we're a team, and give great customer service, and don't sexually harass anybody. They made it as entertaining as possible, the bullshit stuff, but it was still fundamentally bullshit. We did get paid for orientation, but it was only at our base rate, which is darn near minimum wage. So in a couple of weeks I'll see something like $40 in my checking account, after taxes. Maybe not even that, if they start the payroll deductions for health care and the gaming license.

That's about it. I haven't been playing a lot of poker the last couple of weeks because I haven't had money to do so; I'm pretty much eating ramen noodles until the casino opens, at least for mock casino. Sometime during mock the employee dining room opens full-bore, so I can eat real food cheaply.

They've decided we're good enough at craps that being on a live game will get us where we need to be, so they've started teaching us blackjack. Although I'm not perfect dealing blackjack, I'm happier with where I am in blackjack than where I am in craps. I think next week, I'll try to stay on the craps table for practice, rather than blackjack. The following week, we'll actually be in the casino, and the week after, mock casino starts.

We finally got official word on whether employees can play at the casino: They can. However, they can't play within two hours of their shifts, and they can't bet more than $25 a hand, and they can't win a progressive jackpot. The rule currently reads that we can't bet more than $25 per hand of poker, which effectively means that we can't play. I pointed that out to one of the pit bosses, so maybe it will change—but I probably need bring it up to someone higher than that.

That's it: A non-profound thing that says we were officially hired, so you'll officially see me on the floor. The casino opens to the public at 10PM August 1, though the published opening date is August 2. That is, if you were planning on coming in and harassing me.

  Saturday, June 02, 2007

Tournament Strategy and the Prisoner's Dilemma

Bob Ciaffone's article in the May 23 CardPlayer magazine got me thinking.

Briefly, Ciaffone relates a letter from a player who had five big blinds left in a home-game tourney and was debating whether or not to call an all-in raise with JJ. He offers a lot of analysis of the situation, much of it wrongheaded, but he makes it clear that in this tournament everyone is playing very tightly—five big blinds is an average stack.

Ciaffone of course said, shove your chips in, you rate to be a huge favorite, we should all hope and pray we get something as good as pocket Jacks when we're in the big blind and short on chips. And, for the most part, I agree.

However, this game is not normal. These players clearly read the beginner-level books, and they've divined that you should play tightly. And obviously, they're all playing tightly. What that means is that playing tightly is not wrong in this game. In his analysis, the writer figured he was racing, and he didn't like the idea of a race for his tournament life. In this game that line of thought is valid.

I want to emphasize that I would not play like this, even in this game. Somebody who was playing even slightly aggressively would run this game over in about five minutes. Obviously, the players in this game don't know this, and they effectively have an unwritten agreement that they won't play aggressively. When I realized this, I was reminded of the prisoner's dilemma.

Buried in the dense article I linked to, heavy on game theory, is the following "classic" presentation of the prisoner's dilemma:

Two suspects, A and B, are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal: if one testifies for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent, the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both stay silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a two-year sentence. Each prisoner must make the choice of whether to betray the other or to remain silent. However, neither prisoner knows for sure what choice the other prisoner will make. So this dilemma poses the question: How should the prisoners act?

If you're a game-theory wonk (and I'm not), you can easily show that it's in each suspect's best interest to betray the other. I was reminded of the prisoner's dilemma because of this: Everybody playing tightly in this game, is akin to everybody keeping silent in a multiway prisoner's dilemma. They have their nice poker game, which never gets to "real" short-stack, late-tourney strategy, and that's the equivalent of everybody getting a light sentence in the prisoner's dilemma. However, if one person decides to get aggressive (betray), he is rewarded and everyone else is punished. At that point, the only way to reach equilibrium again is for everybody to start playing aggressively (betraying), at which point they'll have something like a real poker game. And, somehow, that's like a two year sentence. Or something.


They sprung something on us at the end of last week, right before the holiday weekend: We were given a 28-page application for gaming licenses from the Pokagon Band of Pottawatomi Indians. It was mainly a very detailed job application, but there were three things that caused a lot of people problems, including me. First, we had to our entire criminal history (anything misdemeanor or higher we've been charged with). Second, we had to furnish our entire financial record, with detailed information on all our assets and debts. Third, we had to provide copies of our last three tax returns.

Now, I understand the reason for all of this: The tribe wants to know how much of a risk we'll be to steal from the casino. Some of the people in class don't seem to get that; they were bitching and moaning about why do they need to provide all of that information. I'm not complaining about that.

I am complaining a bit about having this sprung on me. We got the forms last Friday and had to return them by this Friday, and we lost a day due to the holiday. And, okay, I knew, or should have known, that something like this was coming, yet, but I was still caught having to scramble to get all of my information together. Even so, a lot of my tax information is estimated.

For the first seven (or is it eight?) weeks of craps class, stickman was the easy job. He had to keep an eye on the dice, and call the rolls. But now, finally, we're learning the bets in the center of the table, the last real thing we have to learn before it's all just practice. I wasn't anticipating that this would be a problem: The center bets seemed pretty obvious to me. But if a player bets several of them at once, and a roll goes by, he may win some and lose some, and you have to compute a total payout. If any of his bets are odd-sized, that can take a while. The game stops while you stand there and think, "Okay, he has a $30 'yo' bet, so he gets $450 for that, but he also had a $45 crap check and a $15 high/low, so to keep his bets up I need to subtract $60. Pay this man $390, please."

One of the pit bosses that they hired is kind of an asshole. He came around the table and asked who was ready for his audition; nobody jumped on the chance. But I observed the craps table at a live game at Blue Chip casino last weekend, and I think I was 80–90% of the way to being able to tap out one of the base dealers. Now, that said, part of the reason was that people weren't betting anything crazy; the biggest place bets I saw were $24 and the biggest bets overall were $10 come bets with $100 odds. I thought of saying that, when that pit boss was at our table, but I wasn't sure it was wise. I have no independent verification that I'm really 80%ndash;90% of the way there; I wish I'd asked my instructor today. (The instructors have been switching up. We had a different instructor this week, so when I see my usual instructor on Monday he won't have seen me for over a week.)

Whether or not I am 80–90% there on base, I'm (now) only about 30–40% of the way there at stick. I know what I need to do, but putting it all together and being smooth about it is a whole different thing.

  Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Low-Limit Preflop Quiz: Ed Miller

I haven't done a poker strategy post in a while. But Ed Miller recently put up on his blog this post which recaps an old post of his at 2+2 from 2004, with a list of preflop questions for low-limit players. Since he doesn't post answers (I presume those are coming), I thought I'd take my crack at it to see what I understand. (As far as attribution, the prologue and questions are all Miller, but 2+2 may actually hold the copyright on it, if any; I'd have to look at their Terms of Service.)

I'll bold Miller's questions, but not his prologue.

EDIT: Mere hours after I first posted this, and after going over my answers with Gil and PokerDogg online, Miller posted the answers to the questions. I'll put his answer here in italics, with anything I might have to add afterward.

Low-Limit Preflop Quiz
Posted on Mon May 14, 2007 11:43:42 AM (originally posted 03/07/04)

I think many of you guys need to rethink how you approach preflop play in real loose low-limit games with terrible opponents. Try these situations on for size:

You are playing in the $4/$8 game at Hawaiian Gardens. You have eight opponents, all of whom play terribly. They each play more than fifty percent of their hands… something like any pair, any two suited, any ace, any king, and any connector. They are not sensitive to position. They call raises with almost any hand they would play for one bet. If it is three bets to them, they will tighten up some, but they will still play hands like 33 and A2♠. They raise their better hands… but better for them often means stuff like A♠9, 55, and K8♠. As a result, most pots are five to eight ways, and 30–60 percent of pots are raised (depending on who is presently steaming).

After the flop, your opponents play just as poorly. They call relentlessly with any reasonable hand at all. They will play aggressively if they flop a decent made hand like top pair or a pretty good draw like a flush draw. They don’t do much hand-reading, and the hand-reading they do is pretty bad. They are only rarely intentionally tricky.

[The prologue to his posted answers:]

Alright. In general, I think you guys did pretty well. The general theme of this quiz was to get you to think about preflop play in terms of pot equity, and not “I’m going to flop a flush draw only 1 out of 9 times.…” Since these guys play so badly after the flop, you really need to be playing a lot of hands to take advantage of them. You should still be the tightest player at the table, by far, but you should loosen up significantly versus how you would play against a table of decent players.

Think about pot equity … how often will I win this hand against x opponents? If I have five opponents, and my hand will win 20% of the time, that is a good situation.

Another important point is that being suited becomes more important (because pots are always multiway), and being dominated is somewhat less of a concern (because they raise on many hands and because there are so many people in the pot with you).

Finally, the “don’t cold-call raises … 3-bet or fold” idea does not apply as much to these game conditions. That idea is much strong when the game is tight … when you are fighting over the blind money. Here, you make your overlay from all the stupid calls your opponents make, not from the blind money. You should often let them call.

[And now, back to our regularly-scheduled programming:]

What do you do in each of the following situations? For extra credit, rank each option (fold, call, and raise) in order of goodness.

1. Two limpers to an MP [middle-position player] who raises. You are next (two off the button) with 44.

Call. I don't really expect the blinds to fold, though they might, and both of the limpers will certainly call. I may even pick up another cold-call from the cutoff or the button. If the game is as described, I'm likely to win a huge pot if I flop a set. I'm almost certainly folding on the flop unless I get a set or a possible straight draw, though. I don't like three-betting; if I'm going to play, I want people in the pot, and a reraise isn't the way to do that. So, overall, Call > Fold >> Raise.
Call. There are already three in the hand, and given how loose these guys are, you will usually have two more. Pocket pairs play great against this crew because they are willing to lose so much after the flop. Folding this hand is throwing money away.

2. UTG [Under The Gun, the first player to act] raises and gets four cold-callers. You are in the SB [small blind] with KQ♠.

Reraise. I may actually have the best hand, in which case a raise is clearly correct. Most of the hands that have me dominated, even a poor player will likely four-bet preflop, so I'll have a good idea right away whether I need to worry. I don't really expect anyone to fold for another bet, but my hand plays well in a multiway pot. If I weren't suited, I'd be more likely to fold; there is some risk that I'm dominated, and unsuited cards can't hit a flush (as easily) to bail me out when that happens. What I really want to happen, is that I three-bet, everybody calls, I bet the flop, and UTG raises, blowing everyone else out of the pot. Assuming the big blind doesn't come along, that's thirteen (small) bets worth of dead money in the pot, for which I'll happily compete. Preflop, second- and third-place choices run pretty close, but they're both far inferior to a reraise. My choice: Raise > Fold > Call.
Raise. Despite your position, I think you should 3-bet. Your hand has so much pot equity against five others that I think you need to push your edge.

3. UTG raises and gets four cold-callers. You are on the button with A5♠.

Fold. The risk that I'm dominated is too large, and the flush possibilities won't bail me out often enough. A reraise won't fold anybody, so I'll have the same problem but with more of my money in the pot. Fold >> Call > Raise. (Apparently Miller is using “s” to mean “suited,” not “spades.” Oh well, I guess all of the suited hands are spades today.)
Call. With this many players, your suited ace will probably win more than its share despite the chance that you are dominated. It won’t win a whole lot more than its share, though, so it is probably better to call and see the flop rather than pushing your small edge now. Raising is probably better than folding.
I see the chance I'm dominated to be greater than the chance that I flop something strong to go with my suited Ace-Rag. Miller sees the reverse. Despite the respect I have for him, I'm not sure I'm wrong here. Even if the initial raiser isn't the one who has me dominated, another player could easily have A9 or A7. That said, his advice is consistent with his book, where his charts for this type of game suggest playing any suited Ace, reraising AJs or better. And I do in fact hold his book in high regard (it's easily the most valuable book in my library).

4. You have K9♠ UTG.

Fold. If I knew I could play this for one bet, I'd call, but I'm under the gun. I don't know that. And, Miller set up that 30–60% of pots are raised (that's a rather big spread, Ed: Pick a number and go with it). A raise from me isn't likely to keep people out of the pot, but if I call I might get lucky and be able to play for one bet. Fold >> Call > Raise.
Call. This is a somewhat weak hand for UTG, but it is only one “notch” weaker than hands I play UTG at more typical tables (A9s and KTs). I think it shows a profit against this crew. You have some high card strength, so you don’t mind as much if it comes back raised. I am out of position, but I still want to play this hand six-handed for one or two bets against people who play poorly after the flop. Folding and raising are reasonably close to calling EV-wise I think.
Well, if they're all close, then I can't be all that wrong. I think getting raised is a bigger deal than Miller does, here, which shades me a lot more toward a fold. However, I'll say this: The times I advocate folding a hand that he advocates playing, he has something on me. The other players at the table are going to make a lot more postflop mistakes than I will (I hope!). I can't capitalize on those mistakes unless I'm in the pot. Folding means I'm not in the pot. When it's close, that logic should probably tilt me away from a fold.

5. Folded to you in MP (four off the button) with 33.

Call. Assuming a full table, the first three people have passed on their hands. There are still six players to act behind me. I really have no reason to expect that this will not be a multiway pot. Maybe the pot will be four- or five-handed, instead of the six- or seven-handed that it's been lately, but that's plenty enough players to try for my set. However, if I were a couple of seats closer to the button, I'd fold; a two- or three-handed pot isn't what I want with pocket threes. As the problem is set up, a raise isn't likely to steal the blind; it's more likely to leave me playing out of position with an underpair to the board. Folding is close to calling, though, for the same reason I might fold if I were a seat or two further left. Call > Fold >> Raise.
Call. I included this example because it runs specifically counter to the advice given in HPFAP [Hold'em Poker for Advanced Players, by Sklansky and Malmuth]. In a tougher game (explains HPFAP), you should probably fold 33 from MP if it is folded to you. You can’t expect multiway action, and you are concerned about being isolated. If you played, you’d probably raise to take a shot at the blinds. But in this game, you can limp in now and still have a six-handed pot. Trying to steal the blinds is silly in this game. Pocket pairs are again too good to fold.

6. Four players limp, and you have Q7♠ on the button.

Fold. I'd play a slightly better hand—Q9♠, for example—because I'll have position after the flop and it's unlikely that the blinds will raise. But Q7 just isn't strong enough, even for one bet. A raise would be interesting if the other players were afraid of you—even poor players sometimes recognize who's dragging the great-big pots—but it would fundamentally be a speculative play; you would be relying on your ability to win without a showdown. With this many people in the pot, that's not terribly likely. Fold > Call >> Raise.
Call. This is almost straight out of HPFAP. These guys play terribly, and you have a chance to sneak in with a barely-worth-it hand and see the flop. Do it. Folding is close, and raising is probably bad (but not that bad).
My reasoning at the end of my response to Miller in question 4 applies here. It's close with Q7, Miller agrees with that. If it's close, playing the pot is better than not playing the pot when my opponents are going to make so many postflop mistakes. The charts in Miller's book don't suggest playing Q7s in this situation, but they do suggest playing Q8s, and this game is atypical enough to warrant stretching my opening standards a bit. I hereby change my answer to align with his.

7. UTG+1 [the player on UTG's left] raises, one player cold-calls, and you have AQ♣ in MP (three off the button).

Fold. Ordinarily, I'd base my action here on what I know about the raiser. If I didn't respect his raises, I'd be likely to three-bet here. Three-betting would likely fold most of the field behind me, and get the pot down to three of us, one of whom (the cold-caller) likely doesn't have much at all. But against a typical small-stakes player I have a significant risk of being dominated, and I'm unsuited. Above all, this is a raise-or-fold situation. Fold > Raise >>> Call.
Raise. The AQ Test from Feeney’s book [?] applies to a typical game and a tight UTG raiser. Here, the raiser is not tight, and the game anything but typical. You should 3-bet to get more money in the pot and to improve your position. You are probably better off playing this hand four ways for three bets, acting second-to-last than six or seven ways for two bets, acting in the middle. Calling is better than folding.
I had to defend my response here against both Gil and PokerDogg, but I knew that Miller doesn't like playing against a raise with an unsuited hand. However, in the charts in his book, he does indeed suggest raising AQo (but not AJo) in this situation. Now, all of this said, in actual "combat," I'd be very likely to three-bet as he suggests. I'd have it in my head that the initial raiser was likely to be raising light (again, see the range suggested in Miller's setup), and I wouldn't worry about the cold-caller at all. So I'd three-bet to isolate.
Gil said something interesting here, that's emblematic of a discussion we've had intermittently for some time. Gil said he'd reraise, but he'd just call if he was on short money. One or the other of us is often on short money, so it's a real question. By my lights, if a particular play has the best EV, you make that play. He says preserving bankroll is more important. There's something to what he says, but here you're talking about a one-bet investment to improve the EV in the hand significantly. That's not preserving bankroll, that's risk-aversion, which is far more sinister. Make the play.

8. Two players limp, and you are on the button with K6♠.

Fold. The pot is unraised, and I have the button, but I don't have the volume I need to try to play a suited King. Even if I could be sure that the small blind comes along, and that neither blind will raise, it would be close. Since I'm not sure, this is a clear fold. Fold >> Call >> Raise. [After I wrote that, I went to use the bathroom, and Miller's book is sitting on the side table in there. He says this is a call. Specifically: "From the button, you can limp with most of these hands if two or three weak and loose players have limped in front of you." (p.71)]
Call. See Q7♠ [Question 6]. You have position and a reasonable hand. See a flop against these clowns.
As expected.

9. Five players limp, the SB completes, and you have 99 in the BB [big blind].

Raise. Nines are borderline: A raise with tens would be clear. Nines will occasionally win unimproved against six opponents, but not often. More, I'm taking control of the pot, and building it up for the times I will flop a set. Since I'll flop that set about one time in eight, the raise is for value when I consider implied odds. Folding (for $0!) is an obvious and ridiculous error. Checking, and taking the flop, isn't horrible, but a raise is better. Raise > Check >>> Fold.
Raise. You have six opponents and a much better than 1/7 chance to win this hand. Your position is terrible, but your edge is too big to miss out.

10. Three players limp. You have A♣Q in the SB.

Raise. I almost certainly have the best hand. At the least, I'll win far more than my share against (probably) four opponents. Calling and folding are both major errors. Raise >>> Call > Fold.
Raise. Same with the 99 hand. You win this hand way more often than your share. Despite terrible position, you have to put the money in.

11. UTG raises and gets five cold-callers. You have 73♠ in the BB.

Call. This is fundamentally a speculative play. I want to flop two pair or better or a good flush draw, neither of which will happen that often. But the pot cannot be raised again behind me, and I'm being offered 13:1. If I can play well when I flop second or third pair, those odds are just too good to pass up. Call > Fold >> Raise.
Call. Your hand is not terrific, but it is good enough to take a flop getting 13-to-1 preflop and playing against poor players. I’d probably call with any two suited in this spot.
I should hope so—if you'll call with 73♠, what wouldn't you call with?

12. Two players limp, an MP raises, and an LP [late-position player] 3-bets. You have JJ on the button.

Reraise. "Hang on to your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night." It's reasonably likely I'm behind, and I'm almost certainly going to be dodging a couple of overcards. I estimate that about 25% of the time, I'll get a flop I like and hold the best hand. Add in the number of times I hold the best hand on flops I don't like and the raise becomes clear. However, unless the board comes extremely hairy (say, AAKK double-suited) I'm probably committing myself to a showdown. The pot will just be too large to fold. But on the whole, pocket Jacks play too favorably against my opponents' range of hands to give it up. My four-bet will almost certainly fold the blinds, and will probably fold some of the limpers, which may make an overcard or two safe for me. (For example, if someone limped with K8, and folds for three more bets, that might save me the pot if a King comes.) I'm assuming here that four bets are a cap, as they are in most of the rooms around here. If Hawaiian Gardens has a cap of five bets, then all three options, Reraise, Call, or Fold, run pretty close for me, but I still lean toward reraising. I still want to fold the blinds and limpers, and I'll learn something if someone puts in the fifth bet. Assuming a four-bet cap, Reraise > Fold > Call.
Raise. This runs counter to the “if it’s three bets cold to you, fold JJ” statement in HPFAP … but again, that applies to decent players with reasonable raising standards. I’m not going to fold … my pot equity is too high (coupled with how much extra money you make after the flop when you spike a set). The question is whether to raise or call. I think that’s a reasonably close decision (not one to sit up all night thinking about). I think raising might be marginally better because you probably do have an edge before the flop.

13. Two players limp, and you have A8♠ in the cut-off [the seat to the right of the button].

Call. I might have the best hand, but Ace-Eight is fundamentally a speculative hand. If I like the flop, I might show some aggression then, but until then, my hand is only one with possibilities. Call > Raise >> Fold.
Raise. You have a good hand, position, and you will win way more than your share against your two opponents with almost-random hands.
Well, it's at least three opponents (add in the big blind), not two, but he's probably right. My hand will win more than its share.

14. Three players limp, and the button raises. You have K♠7♣ in the BB.

Fold. This is fundamentally the same question as 11, except that now I have an offsuit hand. The position of the raiser has changed, as well; my call does not close the betting. A reraise behind me is unlikely, but possible. Both of these make a fold pretty clear to me. A raise might be interesting, depending on my table image, but only if I could be pretty sure I'd fold the limpers. Fold >> Call > Raise.
Fold. Bugs Bunny [A respondent on his site, I assume] mentioned that he thought this was in here so I could say to fold one of these hands. He was right. I think you should probably fold here. Calling is really not that bad, though, IMO. In fact, calling may be correct for exceptional postflop players. The fold would be clearer if your hand had less high card value… say K2o.

15. Four players limp, and the cutoff raises. You have AT♠ on the button.

Reraise. It's reasonably likely that I have the best hand, given the range of hands my opponent might raise with. Three-betting is likely to fold a limper or two. Any who come along are likely to check to the raisers on the flop, and if both the cutoff and I like the flop, the limpers will be forced to call two bets cold. My hand is suited, which might bail me out if it turns out that the initial raiser has me dominated. The dead money that will be in the pot, plus the strong possibility that I have the best hand, make this a pretty clear reraise. This is another raise-or-fold situation, though. Raise > Fold >> Call.
Raise. I’d 3-bet for value. You have the button and a great hand. You might be dominated, but since your opponent will raise so many hands, it isn’t all that likely. I think you will win this hand well more than your share (1/6) of the time.

16. Three players limp, and you have AT in the cutoff.

Raise. I probably have the best hand. In any case, I'll win far more than my fair share against three to five opponents. If my raise folds the blinds, so much the better. My offsuit Ace-Ten isn't as strong as the suited Ace-Ten in the last hand, though, so I'll need to play very well after the flop. Raise >> Call > Fold.
Call. I think calling and raising are close here, but calling is probably slightly better. You probably do have an edge preflop, so by calling you are giving up some money. But I think your edge is modest … and the advantage of having someone bet into you if you flop a ten is very significant. I think you should clearly raise AJo, and clearly not raise A9o … ATo is on the border. If you wanted to argue for a raise, I wouldn’t put up much of a fight. I would if you wanted to fold, though …

17. UTG raises, and you are next (UTG+1) with AT♠.

Fold. This is the same hand as in question 15, and it's still a raise-or-fold situation. This time, though, the position of the raiser has changed. Now, if I three-bet, it's unlikely that other players will come along: There won't be dead money in the pot. I'll create a headsup pot against a hand that may dominate mine. On the other hand, at this table, people's raising ranges are pretty large, and my hand compares favorably against most of it. If I have the better hand, playing headsup is exactly what I want. On balance, though, I think Fold > Raise >>> Call.
Call. This is too much hand to fold at this table. The situation is about as unpleasant as it could be (well, at least it’s not three bets), but I’d still call. AT♠ is a real big hand when your opponents play so loosely. Call, and hope everything goes according to plan (four more people cold-call behind you). I don’t like raising, because it does exactly what you don’t want to do … force your opponents to tighten up. Fighting over the blind money is useless (hell, most of it is going to get dropped anyway) … and, though I like my hand, I don’t think it is worth much in a heads-up battle against the UTG raiser.
I think it's telling that Miller has to hold his nose in order to call here. It really sounds like he wants to agree with me, but that he can't force himself to give up a pretty nice suited Ace. If everything does go according to plan, I like my hand, and I especially like my position relative to the preflop raiser: I can force the field to call two cold postflop. And, truly, about 2/3 of the time I will get four more cold-callers. I see Miller's point, and if he wants to call here, I'll let him, but I'm sticking with my answer.

18. UTG raises, four people call, and you have 8♣6 in the BB.

Fold. This is the same situation as question 11, but this time I have an offsuit hand. It's connected, but my hand isn't quite enough to call despite 11:1 pot odds. Raising is obviously horrible. Fold > Call >> Raise.
Call. Similar to the 73♠ hand. Another important consideration when making these calls is where the raise comes from. In this hand (and the 73♠ hand), the raise comes from UTG … that is, from your left. With hands like this, you will often flop a weak draw—bottom pair, a gutshot, a backdoor flush or straight draw, etc. With these hands, you would really like to be able to see the turn for one bet. When the preflop raiser (and likely flop bettor) is on your left, you check, the bettor bets, and then the whole table acts before you do. If everyone calls or folds, then you can call, closing the action. This is very advantageous relative position when you have marginal hands like 73♠ and 8♣6. In fact, if the SB had raised each of these hands, rather than UTG, I probably would have folded both of them.
I won't argue. I don't really disagree. But I'd still probably fold.

19. UTG raises. UTG+1 cold-calls, and you are next (five off the button) with KJ♠.

Fold. Another raise-or-fold situation. King-Jack is a pretty good hand, but the threat of domination is horribly menacing here. If I reraise, I'm in a world of pain if it goes to four bets. I'm suited, which will bail me out sometimes, but on the whole I have to dump this. Fold >> Raise >> Call.
Call. Similar argument to hand 17. This is too much hand to fold at this table. Yes, you might be dominated, but your winning chances are just too good when you aren’t.
Similar hand to #17, indeed, and I responded there.

20. You raise UTG with QQ. Four people cold-call, and the BB 3-bets.

Reraise. It's still reasonably likely that I have the best hand, and there's a lot of dead money in this pot. I'll almost certainly be seeing the showdown, and if UTG has Aces or Kings, well, more power to him. I'm probably dodging the Aces and Kings in any case; I have to believe that of my five opponents, at least one has an Ace, and at least one has a King. UTG may have one of each. Folding is clearly wrong, and calling is way too wimpy for this table. Raise >> Call >> Fold.
Raise. I think you need to put in the final bet against these guys … your edge is too big. Against a tougher table that just happened to feature four cold-callers this hand, you should probably just call … using your position relative to the raiser to force the field to call two cold on the flop (or the turn) when he bets. Your preflop edge against a tougher field is smaller (because their hands are better), and the chance to raise after the flop gains value. But when your opponents play awful hands before the flop, and terribly after it, I think you give up too much when you miss bets like this.
We finally find out that the cap at the casino in question is four bets. I think it was the JJ hand where that was important to my reasoning, but, hey, we have an answer, now.

And in Conclusion

I'm writing this bit after I added in Miller's answers. Where we disagree, Miller is playing hands I'm not playing, figuring that being in pots is better than not being in pots when one's opponents play so badly, especially postflop. And here I was, thinking that part of my problem, especially in live games, is that I play a few too many speculative hands.

I have good reasons for all of my folds above, though. And I don't think they're invalid reasons. Then again, I don't remember the last time I was really in a game as Miller sets it up. Probably the best game I find recently has four decent players and six players with varying degrees of cluelessness. And it really does matter who raises, when I consider folding AT or AQ. And with other decent players in the pot, hands like 73s or especially 86o lose a lot of value.

I'm going to post a response on Miller's blog with a link to this post. Perhaps he will deign to tilt me in the right direction.