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.

  Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Return to the Light

Now, in my defense, I did say that the blog was going to go dark for a while. I expected it to be a couple of weeks, and I expected that once I was online I'd go back to blogging as irregularly as ever. It didn't work out that way, but only because I didn't actually write anything. Stuff continues to happen.

I'm in dealer school for the new Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo, Michigan, as I wrote earlier. I thought I'd have written all about what I learned each day in class, but after the first week, that wouldn't really have been that interesting. Hmm, I probably should go back and read my last post to see what in fact I said, because I know a couple of misapprehensions of mine have been laid to rest, and I don't remember which of those I put to (virtual) paper last time I wrote. But, rather than do the sensible thing, I'll plunge ahead recklessly.

Big Man on Campus (and everywhere else)

I had expected to learn all of the casino games, seeing as we are to be in class for twelve weeks. When I learned that we were only to be learning craps, I was surprised: What could we possibly do for twelve weeks? That we were to learn (at the time, I thought) the "carnival games" (which is all the table games except Blackjack, Craps, and Roulette) also, helped somewhat, but I've been led to believe that each of those takes only a few hours to learn. So what would we do for twelve weeks?

That was at the beginning of class. I didn't know a lot about craps; the pass-line bet with odds was about as far as my knowledge went. The rest looked complicated when it was on the layout (when I would walk past a game), but I figured it'd be easy enough to learn.

Nothing has really been that hard to learn, truth be told, but if they had given us the whole game in the first two days and said, "now do that," I wouldn't have been the only one to gibber in confusion. What they did was actually quite a bit better. The whole first week, they had us simply "cut checks," meaning practicing setting out the number of chips we wanted off the bottom of a stack, and practicing some of the (initial) stickman's calls. ("Two, Craps two, Line away, Don't to pay, Double the Field.") I still thought the pace was a bit slow at this point, but there are people in the class who don't have it down even yet, so maybe I'm wrong.

The second week, they finally introduced us to some of the betting, specifically, the Pass line, the Don't pass, and the Field bets. No mention of taking or laying odds at this point; they wanted all the bets to be paid at one-to-one. Paying the field double turned out to be hard enough for some of the folks, although this at least, most of my classmates are now able to do.

Most of the second week is spent practicing at stick and at base (the dealers who aren't the stickman are "base dealers") with those three bets. The third week, we're introduced to the Come and Don't Come bets, which mean that suddenly the base dealers actually have to do real work, in moving bets.

The fourth week we were introduced to Pass-line odds, progressively: One day, we learned how to pay odds on the 10 and 4, the next on the 9 and 5, and the next on the 8 and 6. They also introduce us to laying odds on the Don't-pass line, but don't have us practice that.

The fifth week, which we're currently in, they start having us practice with players laying odds on the Don't-pass line, as well.

Since the end of the second week, they're having us practice for twenty minutes a day at each dealer position, or an hour (of the four) of total practice, per day. The rest of the time that's not spent in drills or instruction, we're mock players, shooting the dice and making bets with fake-money chips for our classmates to practice taking and paying. (The last couple of days, we haven't all had turns at each position, because they've had us doing drills at the end of class. When I realized this, I started making strategic moves to ensure that I got my full share of practice at both base positions, where I'm least smooth.)

I spent the first two weeks in the afternoon class, and the succeeding weeks in the evening class, for reasons I'll get to later in the post. The afternoon class didn't really have anybody who "wasn't getting it," but I still classed myself as the number-two person in the class, of about fifteen. In the evening, I'm probably second, again; I know less about the game than some of my classmates who've been playing craps for years, but some of those people aren't terrible smooth, either. I like what I overheard the teacher say during a break, today: That everyone in class is good at some things, but not-so-good at others. And that's probably right.

The evening class, though, has a couple of people who "aren't getting it." One, in particular, seems to have a permanent deer-in-the-headlights look, particularly as a base dealer. If someone helps him—"pay that guy $120"—he can do it, but often he doesn't know why he's paying that guy $120. We've lost a couple of others who weren't getting it. One of them went to go learn blackjack, and I hear that she's actually doing okay there.

Nanny and the Professor

There are two people teaching the craps classes, both of whom came from Greektown Casino in Detroit. They're to be pit bosses (or is it shift managers?) once the casino opens, but for now they're teaching us. Chris teaches the morning class, Morris ("Moe") teaches the evening class, and they're both there for the afternoon class. Although the two are pretty good friends, mostly, they are very different people. Morris is very much like "old-school" casino management, and Chris is "new-school." Moe is a very easy-going guy who shows steel from time to time, while Chris is a very professional person who has to make a conscious effort to relax and "hang out." They're about the same age, thirty or so, and it would be interesting to see who ends up advancing farther within the casino industry.

Since that time, other trainers have been hired, who, again, are likely to be our pit bosses and shift managers. The two I come into most contact with both came from Atlantic City, and are teaching Blackjack and Roulette (separately). One of them is very professional, but so intense that I wouldn't want to spend much time with him. The other screams "mob" from every pore of his being, but if he really has any mob connections he must keep them quiet enough to escape the notice of New Jersey's gaming commission. He's another guy who seems very much to be old-school casino-management material, and (likely) a good guy to hang out with.


I finally got a tour of the casino a couple of days ago. It's big, much bigger than any of the casinos in the local area. (To be fair, those others are mostly on boats and are therefore limited in size.) The only casino that comes close in size within a few hours' drive is Soaring Eagle in Mt. Pleasant, and I'm not sure which is bigger. Certainly Four Winds is better designed; the restaurants are nicer, and they'll do a lot better job with their retail. But in actual casino floor space it's not clear that Four Winds is bigger (though it probably is). I'm also not sure how the casinos in Detroit stack up against Four Winds, as far as casino floor space goes, because those are mostly broken up onto several levels. Like the Detroit casinos, though (and unlike Soaring Eagle, or the boats), Four Winds will have high-limit and VIP sections, somewhat separate from the main casino floor. Though I haven't played in either of those sections at other casinos, I kind of like how they're laid out at Four Winds.

The design of Four Winds is such that the building can easily expand in any direction, and in fact they're already planning their first expansion (to add more hotel rooms). Let's see, what other tidbits…the slots, which are already being brought in, appear to all be of the ticket-in, ticket-out (TITO) variety, meaning that the quarter slots don't actually take quarters.

…and Poker

The biggest knock against the casino is this: The poker room will have something between 16 and 20 tables, but they'll all be of the electronic variety. The casino's management company is Lakes Entertainment, Lyle Berman's outfit, and (I'm told) Berman has a piece of PokerTek, the creator of the electronic tables. So, to some extent, the local management doesn't have much choice in the matter. That said, they're more than willing to re-evaluate the situation and put in live games later.

Pretty much every poker player I've talked to, thinks that this is a really bad idea. Even those who take a wait-and-see attitude (like me), don't exactly think that the electronic tables are a brilliant idea. In fact, no poker player I've talked to has said, "Hey, that's neat," or anything like it. The single big advantage I see is that the rake might be lower. They're talking 5% to $4, but that's three months before the place opens, and a lot of things might change between now and then. ($4 is a bit lower than average in this part of the country, but 5%, rather than 10%, is a huge difference in small-stakes games.)

Gil, specifically, says that this is really poor customer service, because poker players want live games. He says that a fairer test would be some live games and some electronic games, to see which players prefer. And in their defense, the management did consider that, and rejected it for reasons that make sense to them. I pointed out to Gil that they already will have that situation: There's another casino fifteen miles away that deals live poker (Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Indiana).

Off the record, most individual management people believe that the electronic tables will fail, and that they'll have to put in live tables. One person in particular, who I probably shouldn't mention in case anyone related to that casino reads this, gives the electronic tables three months. That accords with my guess. If so, they'll do a two- or three-week poker dealer training class, and open live games. So they are open to changing their minds, which is a good thing. (If Soaring Eagle were to do this, and the electronic tables failed, they'd conclude that nobody wants to play poker, and put in slot machines.)

The upshot of all this is that the main reason I'm not in training to be a poker dealer is that there won't be poker dealers. At least, not yet.

Gil and Dagny

When I came down here to talk to the casino about becoming a dealer trainee, Gil was my ride, as I probably said in my last post. They asked him, as well, to join the class, but he demurred. He couldn't see driving all that way to attend a class to do something that he probably wouldn't be able to do, to wit, stand on his feet all day and deal craps. So I came down here alone, and spent the first couple of weeks riding a bicycle in to the casino. (The trip is flat enough, but before then, I hadn't been on a bicycle for twenty years. I worried a lot about whether I'd be able to manage it.)

Then Gil's daughter, Dagny, lost her job. I had mentioned to her previously that Four Winds was hiring dealer trainees (and, in fact, still are, select "table games" and "dealer trainee"). Once she applied, she was called, and she and Gil came down a bit over two weeks ago. They invited her to come and train in blackjack, and this time, Gil began training as well. (I assume that he figured he'd be driving her down here anyway.) Since Gil still has a business to run, he chose to come during the evening session, which worked just fine for his unemployed daughter.

But it also means that I don't have to ride a bicycle in to class every day. I'm only a couple of miles from the casino, where I'm staying, but it's still not terribly comfortable for a 300-pound guy to ride a bicycle for transportation. So I've asked Gil to swing by and pick me up on his way in, and drop me home on the way back, and (so far) he's obliged me.

Mostly, Gil, Dagny and I don't have much contact during class. I go play some fake-money blackjack with them from time to time, but they don't come shoot dice. Possibly craps is (are?) too intimindating even for fake money, but more likely they would feel like they're intruding at a game with six or eight people gathered around, rather than the one or two at a blackjack training table. Occasionally our breaks coincide, though.

Gil told me something interesting today: He figures he'll do this for a couple of years and then be a poker pro. This is the first time he's really said that poker pro was among his ambitions, and it surprised me. His reasoning is sound, though: He'll be making good money at the casino, and he'll obviously still be playing poker, likely more than he is now. In a few years, he'll be vested in Social Security, so he'll have an income of sorts. By that time, he figures to have a good idea how he stacks up against the competition, presumedly in medium-stakes games, and will know whether he can indeed "take his show on the road," so to speak.

I reserve judgment.

A Strategic Question

This might belong in a separate post, but a fellow student brought this up to me. It's always been presented to me that if you're going to play craps, the best (or least bad) way to play, is to play the Don't-pass line with maximum odds. And it's true, that this bet, looked at as a whole, has a small house advantage; the size of which depends on what the house maximum is on its odds. Four Winds is expected to offer 10× odds; with 10× odds the house has a 0.124% edge on the combined bet (see here). But:

It's not a combined bet. Let's say you put $10 on the Don't-pass line. That bet has a house advantage of 1.364%, or an EV of −14¢. Now (regardless of what the point is) you lay maximum odds. That bet pays true odds, with no house advantage, or an EV of 0¢. So, in other words, you've now put out $110, to give the house that same 14¢ of EV. In other words, you have the same EV, but you're increasing your variance drastically.

I didn't have a great answer for this when it was presented to me, but I have one now. Check me, please, to see if I'm missing something.

Whether to take or lay odds depends on why you're playing craps in the first place. If you're trying to stretch your time at the casino, giving up 14¢ of EV every time you bet $10 isn't so bad. If you've got a couple of hundred bucks, you could stay at the table for quite a while just on those $10 bets. You probably won't lose much, but you probably won't win much, either.

But if you're really trying to win money at the game, then far from trying to reduce your variance, you are seeking it out. That $110 with next to no house edge is a pretty good bet; you'll win almost half the time. Sure, a casino will trade even-money bets with you forever: They have more money than you do. But a player who makes one or two of those $110 bets is a lot likelier to leave with a good chunk of the casino's money than the guy who makes a couple of dozen $10 bets.

It seems like I should be able to wrap up this last point with something profound, but I can't do it. The concept was new to me, that taking or laying the odds doesn't actually change your EV, and so I wanted to puzzle it out. Now I have.

You know what the worst thing about living in Indiana is? The Detroit Tigers aren't on cable, here.