Saturday April 19, 2014
When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike about five miles to get to a little variety store in Pleasant Hill, California to buy baseball cards. It was the only place that carried them in my neck of the woods, but the weather in Northern California is great and the ride was fun. Sometimes a friend rode with me and while we never had more than enough money for one or two packs of cards, we didn't care. Sometimes we got shut out and they had no cards left. It was a gamble, but we didn't mind.
Sometimes we bought a pack and it had cards we already had! Bummer. A losing gamble, but it was still worth the ride. How far did you walk or ride to buy candy, a soda, or some baseball cards when you were a kid? Was it worth the trek? Was it worth the gamble? I lived in Japan for two years and never saw a baseball card, so when the family got back to California I remember borrowing my uncle's bike and riding seven or eight miles to a 7-Eleven (there's that craps number, hmmm) and since they had no baseball cards I bought a Slurpee with a baseball player on it. Two days later I did it again. Still worth the trip.
Not everyone gambles for the same reason, but the high and excitement is often worth a bit of a drive. Now I wouldn't drive all the way from Seattle to check out the casinos of Alaska, because it's just too far. Heck, it's almost 1,000 miles from Anchorage to Sitka just to play bingo, but I digress.
I have traveled 550 miles by car for a single evening of gambling. Is that crazy? How far would you go to gamble? How far do you travel on a regular basis? I'm just saying...............it might be a long way, and it's probably worth it, right?
Sunday April 13, 2014
Photo Courtesy (Getty Images)
Poker pro Phil Ivey is neck-deep in another casino baccarat dispute, this time involving a $9.6 million win at the Borgata in Atlantic City. After having more than $10 million withheld by a London casino in a similar dispute, the player's use of all available information again comes into question. According to the Borgata, Ivey took advantage of the poorly-cut playing cards, some of which had full-circles at the end of the card (on the back) and some only had a quarter or a half, and those cuts were on specific card values. This type of scam has been going-on for 100 years, with many Nevada stories where blackjack players took similar advantage and either high-lowed decks, or were able to guess the value of the next card when the dealer exposed too much of the back of the deck.
There are two major things that jump out at me with this story. The first, if it is true that Ivey and his accomplice did actually have input on the arrangement of the cards (it is alleged they told the dealer which way to turn cards so they could see the top of the small circles and may have influenced their arrangement), then they are out and out cheats in my book - but of course that's for the court of law and public opinion to decide. The second issue is that if this is indeed what happened in London, what the heck is wrong with the Borgata? You know the issue is possible and you keep using playing cards with the potential for theft? OMG.
As for poker play and the use of all available information, that's what makes a player great. Whether you are reading your opponent to guess their hand, or just figuring pot odds to decide on a call, raise or fold, that's what it's all about. Phil Ivey has shown he is one of the best poker players in the world because he takes in all information and uses it to his advantage. If the casino offers a game where he can see the defects and profit - well shame on them. If he steered the cards to increase that advantage - shame on him, and wow, is that disappointing!
Friday April 11, 2014
I took my kids to a carnival recently and was surprised to see a version of Crown and Anchor, which is a popular three-dice game played in some casinos, especially in the Bahamas. It's virtually the same as Hoo Hey How, which is played in China, Malaysia, and Thailand, but you don't see it very much in the US.
The game reminded me of a carnival way back in my mind, way back when I was a kid in Ohio, and a field my buddies and I played baseball on was turned into a field full of rides, ring-tosses, and some very questionable games nobody seemed to win at. However, there was also one game that caught my interest (yeah, big surprise, right?) because it was an out-right gambling game. The game had two big dice sitting at the top of a slide and players bet on the number being low, medium, or high (for an even-money payoff), or on 7. As if the hold on the total number wasn't bad enough, the payout on a roll of 7 was just 4 to 1. I had dimes. I had no idea how the odds worked. I had youth and inexperience on my side. Yup, I was the rube they were looking for, and I decided to use my own system of just betting more and more until 7 rolled.
After playing for a while my system clearly wasn't working. So I kept playing. The guy in charge even said, "Kid, why don't you try the dart game, this isn't a very good game for you," but I persisted, and then the dice gods smiled on me. After that, 7 rolled almost continually. I bet more and more, until my original carnival stake of $2.60 was over $10. Then, unlike so many casino gamblers before me, I quit. I took my bucks, bought snacks and soda, lucked into a big stuffed animal, and walked home when my money dwindled down to $5.20 - double my starting cash.
Is there a moral there? Sure. When you have no clue about a game but get lucky, do yourself a favor and get out when you make some money, then learn the rules!.
Friday April 4, 2014
Long ago and far away in the land of '60's and 70's Vegas Poker, there were plenty of poker games to choose from. Not like today, oh no, but still you had a choice. Unfortunately, the choices weren't great, since several of the games were what is affectionately remembered as Snatch and Grab games. That meant the dealer pretty much snatched whatever rake they wanted from each pot and stuck it in the rack. Not all games had a drop box for the rake. I recall hearing from older dealers that they would sometimes rake as much as 50% from drunk or unsuspecting players. That's terrible, but some of today's games aren't any better. In fact they are actually worse, because they get twice as many hands out per hour so the hourly amount taken off in rake is probably higher!
Now I know we can't expect poker games to be as low cost as baccarat, with a 5% commission on winning bets for a tiny house edge of 1.06%, but the rake on some poker games these days is getting ridiculous. Even the new poker table game of Three Card Baccarat has only a 2.41% house edge. I can certainly live with that, and, it's available in places where baccarat hasn't been legalized or approved. That's cool. What's not cool is paying 20% in rake per hand of poker.
I play mostly $1-$2 no limit. $2-$5 if the game looks good. I'm not too happy with limit, especially a game like $2/$4 or $3/$6, because I don't know how anybody can beat the game. I played in a $4/$8 game the other day at Ft. McDowell (Arizona) casino because they had a $300 aces cracked promotion. That's worth a drive, so there I was for a few days. Unfortunately they rake $7 from a $30 pot for the jackpot bank and the drop. That's more than a 23% rake. The promo made it worthwhile, but would I play regularly? Even if I had nowhere else to play at that limit it would be a tough go.
So, I played at Wild Horse Pass last night, still in Arizona. It's a nice room, I've been there before, except there was a wait list for the $2-$200 spread limit game (no-limit isn't allowed in Arizona, so the highest game is $5 to $500 spread), so I just took the first seat and ordered fried rice. The food was awesome. The players were friendly and ready to gamble, the dealers were good, and the rake was impossible to beat. More than one dealer raked $4 ($2 bonus pool, $2 drop) at $18, which is 22%. At $24 the total rake was $5 and when the pot reached $30 they pulled the last dollar. That rake isn't exclusive to Arizona, don't get me wrong, but how does any casual player beat a game with a 20%+ rake?
There has got to be a happy medium where the players aren't gouged to such a degree. I wouldn't mind a $1 jackpot pop and a $3 per pot rake. If the average pot was $40 the cost would be 10%. That's livable for players. I know we can't go back in time to the rake the games had 20 years ago when most tables were 10% to $2 max, but can't we get close?
I played long enough to enjoy my dinner, enjoy the players, get my Kings and Queens cracked, and watch $200 get raked off the table, not by the players, but by the house - in an hour. I guess I'm lucky to play mostly no-limit, were that rake isn't 20% of every pot. So, the obvious question is, do any of you have a preference at your casino? Would you rather have big jackpots and pay a 20% rake, or would you rather have little or no jackpots and pay 10%?