Category Archives: Entertainment

WSOP 2016 Adventure: Day 4

 After playing in the $1500 WSOP and $235 deepstacks at the RIO I decided for my 4th day to head to downtown Las Vegas where smaller buy in tournaments were taking place. I had heard about the Golden Nugget tournaments. This is an “old school” casino that has been renovated in recent years (or at least, half of it was renovated with a great swimming area). I had also heard their Claim Jumper restaurant praised so I arrived early for a hearty breakfast. And I can highly recommend this cafe.


The Golden Nugget was hosting a tournament series in their Grand Ballroom. The 1 pm tournament was $150 and started with 15,000 chips while the 7 pm tournament was $100 and you started with 10,000 chips. Blinds in both were every 30 minutes so you got some good play for your money.


I entered the 1 pm tournament and played until around 4:30 when I got knocked out. I do not remember any hands from this event. I decided to play in the 7 pm tournament and the two hours free time gave me an opportunity to do something I’d been looking forward to for a few months: have a drink at Atomic Liquors Cafe! This is a very cool place where the hipster Vegas crowd hangs out. I had a couple of excellent pints of craft beer before heading back into the tournament fray.


I should note that the end of town on Freemont where Atomic Liquors is situated also boasts an excellent bookstore and record store. There is also a cool “container park” and much of this development is sponsored by the Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, “who leads the Downtown Project, an effort to revitalize downtown Las Vegas as a vibrant cultural and economic hotspot, has said he wants ‘to be in an area where everyone feels like they can hang out all the time and where there’s not a huge distinction between working and playing.’”


Anyway, back to poker:

I entered the 7 pm, $100 tournament with $10,000 in chips and there were 140 people registered. My first table was fairly friendly. There were two women to my right, the one furthest away was in her 60s and was a “local”. Apparently she played Omaha with her friends in a weekly game. The woman directly to my right was about 35 and was co-owner/manager of a poker club in Dallas. She had actually cashed in the Collossus tournament but she said it was a “min cash” and she’d bought in 3 or 4 times and had been partially bankrolled.

After about an hour and a half I was hovering around $12,000 chips and I had Ac,8c. I believe the older lady raised and I called with a couple of other people. Two clubs came on the flop so I had a nut flush draw. She bet the flop and I called and I made the flush on the turn! She bet again and I called, and then the river paired the board which brought on the possibility of a full house, but I did not think she had that. The river action went Bet, raise (from me) and call and I won a pretty large pot with my nut flush! I was up over 24,000 chips at that point. The older lady expressed surprise at my flush because she did not realize there were three clubs showing on the board! The younger women to my right made a comment about “well, a pair out there could mean a full house” indicating she may have thought me a bit reckless to be raising on the river. But I was quite sure I was ahead and wanted to get some value from my flush.

After about another 45 minutes I got my dream hand. The blinds were 100/200 and I was in middle position. I looked down at J,J so I raised to 600 and was called by one person to my left and the older woman (again). The flop came with another J giving me a set! However, it was checked to me and I thought “no one is going to bet and they will fold if I bet” so I just checked (the board was “rainbow” meaning all the cards were different suits so there was no immediate danger of a flush). On the turn came another Jack so I now had quads!! Finally the older woman bets 700 so I think “great, at least I’ll make a couple of thousand chips” and I call. A guy to my left calls as well! On the river the older woman goes “all in” for another 2100! Oh happy day! So I just call the 2100 hoping the guy to my right will call as well. He surprises me by raising another 5,000 chips! Oh happy day! I love poker! (At this point the older woman says to the younger one “ok, I know I’m not going to win this pot!”). So I surprise him by raising another 5,000. I could have raised all in, but I wanted to let him have a few thousand chips left because I think this will make it easier for him to call if he is not going totally “all in”. My re-raise really shocks him and he actually says “what could you have? I have a full house!” and he takes a minute or so but reluctantly calls and I turn over my JJ to show quads! So I knock out the older lady and take most of his chips and I’m up to almost 50,000 now. Nice!

I had a few good hands after this including one where a player goes all in, and is called by one other player and me. The flop gives me an open ended straight draw and I check, believing the two of us will “check it down” to have a better chance to eliminate a the all-in player. This is an established practice that not everyone follows. The idea is that it is more important to eliminate a player than it is to gain a few chips. So I check the flop and to my surprise the other player bets. I’m a bit irritated, but I have a good draw so I call and with the turn I make my straight!  The other guy bets again and I call and we both check the river. He turns over the set he flopped and starts to reach for the chips and I show my straight. He looks kind of irritated as the dealer pushes over the chips to me! This guy also looked a little pained throughout the tournament because he was in the process of getting a large tattoo on his arm and had some paper or gauze over it to help with the healing. He pushed me off a couple of other hands with his aggression but by around midnight I think he had gotten knocked out.

So I had several good hands and then there is the inevitable 2 – 3 hours when you get nothing and the blinds are higher and your large stack begins to get smaller. By 1:30 am there were only a couple of tables left and the blinds were very high. I was hanging in with an average chip stack and looking for spots to raise or even jam but mostly I folded. One on the fun things about playing poker is the great “cast of characters” you run into because it is a social game and people talk. There was a guy from New Orleans who, like the woman I had met earlier, managed a poker club back home. He was down to only 2 or 3 big blinds but managed to chip up and make the final table.

By around 2 am (7 hours of playing) I had made the final table! This was pretty thrilling although getting knocked out at that point would still only get you about $330 which is not much profit considering all the time invested. When I made the final table the blinds were around 2000/4000 with a 500 ante. With 10 people at the table, that meant there were 11,000 chips in the pot before any betting had taken place. I had just over 40,000 chips which was 10 big blinds and is not quite short stacked, but not great either.

In one of the first hands I was in early position and looked down to see 5,5 in my hand. I was not crazy about the idea but I felt my only choice was to shove all in. With another 8 players to come it was possible someone else would have a higher pair, but if they called with A,J; A,K; Q,K etc. I was slightly ahead. Understanding how many big blinds you have left is an important factor that dictates how aggressive your play should be. The shorter you are, the lower your range for shoving all in. There is also something called the “M Factor” which Dan Harrington uses in his books. It is a number that shows how many more hands you can last. For example, with the 2000/4000 blinds and 500 ante, it was costing me about 11,000 chips every round so I had an “M factor” of around 4 which is pretty low. There is also a concept called “fold equity” which basically means the more chips I have when I go all in, the greater likelihood others will fold.

At this stage most players had between 40K and 120K in chips so I had a good hand with decent fold equity. So I took the plunge, went all in and…..everyone folded! So I now had over 50K in chips and could be a little patient for a few hands.

There was an older guy to my right and a few times over the next 45 minutes he just called the big blind or “limped in” as we say. So two or three times that he did that I had hands like A,10 and A,J and I was in late position so I jammed all in. He reluctantly folded. At one point I believe the blinds were 2500/5000 he raised to 12,000. I looked down and saw 6,6. I thought about calling but I’d basically be doing that to hope I flopped a set which is going to happen 12% of the time. I had around 60K in chips which is not enough to call in that position. I thought of going all in, but previously he had only limped in and now he was raising so I suspected he had either a high pair or an A,K kind of hand. Against a higher pair my 6,6 is crushed and against the A,K; A,Q range I am still only slightly ahead. So I folded. So did everyone else and he gave me a disappointed look, turned over A,A and said “why did you fold? You went all in every other time I raised”. I shrugged and did not correct his misreading of my play: I’d only gone “all in” when he had called (thus showing weakness) and not when he raised.

I had a few other good hands. I got it all in with A, K against 10,10 and a King came and I doubled up. Another player had had a huge stack and had lost a fair amount raised and I looked down a J,J so I went all in. He thought about it for almost a minute which I took as a good sign. I was thinking he had a smaller pair and eventually he called and turned over 6,6 and I won that hand as well.

There were two German friends who made it to the final table. They both spoke English well but occasionally had to be cautioned about speaking German at the table. I will always remember one player saying “I’m going to raise” and one of the Germans, in a very precise manner, and with his accent, replied “That is always a good idea”. At one point I raised all in with A, 10 and the one German really thought about calling for a while and then folded. I said “I’ve heard Germans are very disciplined and that was a disciplined fold. You should do more of those!”. He smiled.

Eventually we began to discuss a chop because, as one player put it, “I’d be pretty pissed if I played for 8 hours and still only made $300!”. When the final table got down to 8 we did the math and figured we would each make slightly over $1100 so we settled on that!

It was after 3 am when we came to the agreement and it was all very exciting. By the time I got my chips and cashed them in for money and drove back to my hotel it was around 4 am Vegas time and 7 am Eastern. I texted my wife (who was just getting up for work) and expressed my excitement. It was a real thrill to have played for that long and had a decent cash. So that was the poker highlight of my trip!



The Wayback Machine reveals….

The internet is an amazing repository of everything. I was “googling myself” for some strange reason the other week and found this article I wrote for The Varsity when I was attending the University of Toronto many years ago. I had no memory of writing this review or even watching the movie, although I had to tidy up the page breaks etc. and gradually some memories resurfaced. Anyway, here is my “long lost” movie review.


The opening sequence of 8 Million Ways to Die is shot from a helicopter traveling over a vast network of freeways. Jeff Bridges mumbles, in a voiceover, “Ya don’t know where it’s comin’ from … strangers are killin’ each other.” This is a fairly good explanation of this movie which often needs explaining. Bridges plays an alcoholic ex-cop who gets involved with drug dealers, prostitutes and. naturally enough, murder. He is contacted by “Sunny” — a call-girl who wants to leave the business — through a cryptic encounter with another A. A. member. So he goes to this mansion where there are a lot of prostitutes and cocaine, and where people are betting on closed- circuit boxing matches: vice seems to prevail.

It takes Jeff Bridges (playing “Scudder”) half the movie to figure out finally “where it’s coming from,” and by this point Sunny has been killed and Scudder has missed a horse riding date with his daughter by going on a binge which lands him in a detox centre. Bridges spends much of the movie looking in rough shape as he battles his alcoholism and Sunny’s killers. He is well cast as the angst-ridden — though amiable — hero pitted against the evil foreign drug dealers.

8 Million Ways to Die is often interesting, particularly when we never know what’s going on. At key moments we feel that there are 8 million ways one could die and this brings out the best existential film-noir elements of the movie. But other moments last too long. The love interest between Scudder and Sarah (another prostitute played with unflagging courage by Rosanna Arquette) is not believable: it consists of a few embarrassingly long scenes where they exchange the smallest of talk and the most furtive of glances. However, there ait many superb episodes: at an A. A. meeting the camera pans through the members nervously smoking cigarettes and folding bits of paper. We feel that one addiction has been replaced by others — man is a creature doomed to his vices. Also, having Angel (the evil cocaine dealer) buy Salvador Dali’s house where he delivers a lecture to Scudder on how everything was built at a 45-degree angle “because that was the perfect way to observe nature — which is truth” is marvellous irony.

Perhaps the movie’s erratic nature can be blamed on the fact that the director, Hal Ashby, was fired just before completion. The final editing -may have been done by someone else, with less skill and craft. 8 Million Ways to Die is a flawed but interesting movie. It could have been better but it’s definitely worth seeing as a diversion with moments of delicious insight.

How No Limit Hold ’em works

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Ted’s quick No Limit Hold ‘em primer: for those unfamiliar with “No Limit Hold ‘em”, here is how it works. This is just a guide to the basic elements of play for this one version of poker. When I was in high school and part of our chess club turned into a Poker Club, we played “dealer’s choice” which included crazy games like Baseball, Guts etc. These all had wild cards to make the play more exciting. When I first started going to Vegas the most common game was 7 Card Stud and I played that for several years. A typical poker room might have 5 tables of 7 card stud and one table of Texas hold ’em (and this table was often a lot louder than the 7 card stud games). Over the past 10-15 years the game has shifted so that No Limit Hold ’em is by far the most popular game played and almost the only one you see on tv. But in larger casinos Omaha and some other versions can be found.

In No Limit Hold ’em, players must make the “best 5-card hand” out of any combination of their two “hole cards” (which only they see) and the 5 “community cards” which everyone sees. There are two compulsory bets called the “small blind” (SB) and the “big blind” (BB) which move clockwise around the table. In a poker tournament these “blinds” get larger and larger as time goes by–if they did not, then everyone could fold their bad cards and the tournament could last days, or weeks! Blinds “force the action” and they get their name from the fact that you must put in your chips “blind”, before you even see your two hole cards.

N.B. for tournaments that last only one evening the blinds increase every 15, 20 or 30 minutes. For the $1500 tournament I played they increase every hour and for the $10,000 “main event” it is every 2 hours.

After everyone is dealt two hole cards the action starts on the first person that is in “front” of the big blind and moves clockwise around the table. This first player (called “under the gun”) has a choice to “call” (i.e. match the amount of the big blind), “raise” (put in a bet larger than the big blind) or “fold” (throw away their cards). Let’s say the small blind (SB) is 50, big blind (BB) is 100 and the “under the gun” (UTG) player raises to 300. Now if anyone wants to keep playing this hand they must at least match 300 (“call”) or they could raise.

Raising: The original BB is 100 and UTG raised to 300. That is a raise of 200 so if another player wanted to re-raise they would have to at least double the 200 chip raise therefore betting 500.

N.B. It is called “no limit” hold ‘em because there is no limit to how many chips you can bet during your turn. Anyone can move “all in” with their remaining chips when betting. There are many “limit” versions of poker as well.  

In our example, let’s say there are 9 players and 3 additional players have good enough hole cards that they “call” the 300 bet. You now have 4 players left in the hand and at least 1200 chips in the pot (if the SB and BB folded then you have 1350 (300 x 4 + 150), but if the SB and BB are 2 of the 4 players, you only have 1200 chips). Now the dealer deals 3 cards called the “flop”. At this point the players have seen 5 of the 7 total cards possible and have a decent idea about the value of their hand. The second round of betting begins with the SB (if they are still in the hand), BB (if they are still in the hand) or UTG player and continues clockwise. Let’s say the SB and BB are 2 of the 3 players who called and they “check” (they are not forced to bet at this point) . UTG bets 600, one other person calls 600 and the SB and BB fold. There are now 2 people left “in the hand” and the pot contains 2400 chips.

The dealer deals another card called “the turn” so the players have now seen 6 of the 7 cards possible. UTG “checks”, other player “checks”. The dealer deals “the river” (the final card). UTG bets 1000 and the other player folds so the UTG player wins 2400 chips!

Some things to consider regarding strategy:

  • The power of position. It is better to be in late position, after other people have acted, than early. Having good cards is great, but putting in a big raise (after players have just called the big blind) can get people to fold. The more “information” you can gather, the better.
  • “Putting people on a hand”. If someone raises you have to think about their range. In early position it will be something like AK, AQ, AJ, AA, KK, QQ, JJ, 10 10, 99 etc. But in later position, if no one has raised, it might be “any two cards” within reason (e.g. K 10, Q 10, J 10 etc.)
  • Putting together the story: the fascinating part of poker is trying to figure out what other people have, and acting accordingly. Poker has been described as “like playing chess but only seeing half of the chess board”. Even when you are not playing in a hand you should be observing what other players are doing. How often do they raise? Do they “check raise”? If you do get to see their cards at the end of a hand you should memorize them  (“wow, he raised in early position with Q 10, that is a really wide range”).
  • Paying attention is important: In the above scenario (blinds are 50 and 100) if 4 people just “call” the big blind and it gets back to the SB and that person folds, you know they are a weak player. They would only have to put another 50 chips in to have a chance at winning 600. So they are getting “12 to 1” on their money (e.g. they only need to win the pot slightly more than 10% of the time for this to be profitable). So they should be playing “any two cards”. If a player folds then you know they don’t understand “pot odds” very well and are weak. You can “exploit” that later on.
  • Aggression is often a good idea. Why bet when you can raise? It’s hard to make a pair. Most hands are won by a higher pair, or two pairs. But sometimes things get much more complicated!
  • David Sklansky is one of the earlier writers on poker theory and he presented a detailed and complex analysis of the topic. This is his “fundamental theorem”. “Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents’ cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.”

The American Idol Experiment

A couple of Facebook friends mentioned they actually liked this show and what a great season it was this year. I decided to be the fairest guy I could and actually watch a show and post my musings about each singer. I’ve never before watched an entire show. And I wound up not watching this one either, but I gave it a good shot.

I think the singers are all quite good but ultimately most of the songs they sing are not ones that I like. Or they take slightly edgy material and knock all the edge out of them. So here are my observations on the whole “Idol” thing….

Lauren: nice voice but spent a lot of time cloying up…and seemed kind of uncomfortable….I wish she’d spent more energy singing the Shania Twain song than trying her “moves” around the stage and winking into the camera. It sounded like she almost lost the rhythm at one point.

Casey: “with a little help from my friends”. I liked the parts where he kicks it into high gear…..But then he backs off and has these little “cute falsetto” sections which I’m not crazy about. But overall it was nice to hear. I think that “joe cocker” is much more “rock” which I miss. This was “rock lite”.

Ashton:  Nice smooth voice. But I was working on my computer and thought she was just some commercial in the background.  So nice, but not a lot of personality.

Paul: Starts out kind of low and almost out of tune? I like his energy. He seems the most genuine so far. But I kept waiting for it to kind of take off but it didn’t. Oh well.

Pia: OK, she’s scaring me talking about how much she likes Celine Dion.  But I guess we can’t all be Wilco fans like Randy. Nice voice really. But the first two “All By MY self” the “self” is too quiet. I don’t know how Celine sings it, but the line is repeated so much you have to take a stand on it I think. Pia has a problem deciding how to phrase the line because she changes it so much including a kind of warbly one towards the end. The crowd loves her powerful voice. I wish she was a little more understated.

James: He hopes he can get to be like Paul McCartney as well? Good luck dude because Paul actually _wrote_ Maybe I’m Amazed, in addition to signing the **** out of it. OK, James does have a great voice. I love the way he “hits” the chorus. I find his expressions a little ingratiating but I think his performance was the best so far. Great falsetto riff and overall a really great performance. I liked it.

2 hours? I didn’t know this show was two hours long….Criminal minds is coming on at 9!

Haley: Kind of nice but her little yodel thing is not so convincing. I guess that gal doesn’t quite have enough country for that song. But it was pretty. I agree with Randy that it was a little “sleepy and boring.”

Jacob: Nice soulful voice. Really hits it out of the park but I didn’t quite like the warbly falsetto. But overall really great. Solid!

Thia: Very sweet. Delicate voice and it’s nice to hear a little subtlety in the interpretation and just a bit of a funky interlude.

Scotty: Nice country guy. Seems like he’s trying hard to be 50 when he’s only 20? I’m not a fan of half step modulations (except the one in “Downtown”!). But overall nice, just not so special.

OK, that’s it. Kind of fell off the show when I watched Criminal Minds. Interesting experiment but I don’t think I’ll be back next week. Are all these shows 2 hours? Wow, I had no idea…..