October 2006
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Scheduled maintenance my arse

The inconvenience of not being able to play any more if you are an American?

Hey apologise to the shareholders…

Party’s nearly over

At 10am Eastern Time tomorrow, 3pm in the UK, President Bush is expected to sign the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. Party Poker will then, retardedly, close about a gazillion accounts belonging to Americans, for whom online poker will be no less legal that it currently is.

That’s just under 24 hours from now. At 10:30 EST I took the screen grab above showing the number of players connected. Tomorrow I will do the same at the same time. I can only speculate what proportion of their players are from the USA, but bear in mind that their stock price has lost over two thirds of its value.  It’s quite high.

Actually a sample from a more sensible time (really, how many play poker at 7.30am on the West Coast?) might show a more dramatic slump.  I’ll see what I can do…

Hey kids, do you like violence?

I always expected the reception I’d get at Stoke Grosvenor would be frosty. This is a regular haunt for many of my former so-caled friends and other ex-poker buddies and I knew that whenever I went odds would be that I would bump into at least one of them.  Tonight for the £20 freezeout it actually took until level five and my second table move until I came face to face with any of them across a card table. As expected, they were ignoring me just as hard as I was ignoring them.

Allow me to introduce some characters: James Welsh, my estranged business partner on a poker-related venture and the mastermind behind UK Poker Info – a forum from which he has subsequently banned me for posting a strategy article with only the slightest hint of superiority – busted out a couple of hands later, moving all in without looking and tabling garbage that thankfully didn’t improve. Jim Fryer, the former owner of an illegal poker club that is somehow no longer running, and who still owes me ninety quid for a table, was riding high with about 40k in chips allowing him the freedom of only playing every other hand whilst running backwards and forwards to have a smoke. Negative expection on two counts.

I never got to play a pot with Jim, and only contributed to only two hands at that table before I went home. I’d raised once with AQo and folded to a reraise all in, then made a squeeze play with AJ against an early position raiser and a caller. I still quite like the move, even though I ran into a squeezee (I need to know if I’m the first person to use that word) with AQ. I had a chance to nearly double my stack uncontested, which was fairly likely given the extreme tightness I had shown, and the prospect of taking a race with 4.5k in dead money wasn’t too shabby. It’s only real bad when you are dominated – and he calls. Which it turned out I was, and he did, thinking he was behind.

Earlier though, I had a confrontation with "Deadly" Darren Sutton. Daz is not someone I know well at all. I can really only remember one time I’ve spoken more than a passing sentence to him, which was actually at Nottingham Gala on the same day I discovered that my so-called friends from the saturday night game I have such fond memories of were a bunch of ignorant back-stabbers. Let’s move on.

Darren comes over to tell me how nobody likes me, and then how I owe various people an apology and how I owe James some money. He tells me "you and him need to sort it out, or I will sort it out". Whether or not he has a point doesn’t much matter – none of this is any of his fucking business, but he obviously loves the action. I am brought up to speed as he walks away. "You don’t know me. I used to be a minder. I look after people".

Another person he is looking after tonight is Rob Ho, although I doubt this is with his knowledge or consent given that Rob is a martial arts expert and could cripple me as soon as look at me if he wanted. On the very rare occasions we had a saturday game without him, we would gossip around the table about how he is likely connected, a Triad probably. I owe him an apology, I’m informed, because of how I insulted him on the forum – by which he can only mean the "strategy article" I mentioned above. As I walk to the bathroom at the first break, Rob actually yells up from his cash game at me "Hey Chris, are you winning?". I’m so startled, I don’t really know how to respond and mumble back god knows what before running away to take a piss. Unless it’s part of an overly elaborate and highly doubtful good cop/bad cop routine, then Rob isn’t holding a grudge. And I would have gone back to talk to him too, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids.

Deadly Daz followed me into the bathroom. He followed me into the fucking bathroom! He stood next to me, and carried on with a routine which I pretty much ignored, trying instead to concentrate on whether he specifically was the reason I couldnt go, or just that there was another gent right there who was more interested in me than his own bodily functions. That would usually do the trick.  As I left (he was done before me, and didn’t wash) he was waiting near the door to keep yelling across to me and point out exactly where Rob was sitting. I don’t know why he was yelling. I didn’t stop to see who he was with, whether it was even anyone I’d ever met before. Or whether they were impressed. I just kept walking. I don’t know – nor did I care to find out – whether he was all talk. But I was glad to be back on the casino floor. As far as I know, there’s no cameras over the urinals…

So there we have it. I was threatened and intimidated – twice – by a guy I hardly know in my friendly neighbourhood casino. Just one contribution to a general air of violence in the Grosvenor Stoke where threats, fights and beatings appear to be an everyday occurrance. When the cash game was announced, some cheerful soul piped up "will there be a punch up tonight?". Apparently there was yesterday, and it sounds like the crowd loved it. And I heard two guys at my table very openly discussing how they might teach someone a lesson. "Careful though, he’s the kind who’ll run down the cop shop first chance he gets", says one. "Yeah, but what’s he gonna do with a fucking broken neck?", came the reply.

T minus 286

There was never really any doubt that Claire and I would be heading to Vegas for the summer again next year.  I just didn’t expect that we’d book it this soon.  Last year the flight prices were hideous this time of year before a promotion kicked in on Christmas Eve and we snapped up the seats in a flash.

So when the diamond club reservations system showed availability for the first four weeks of the school holidays – the first time I’ve ever seen it show dates to Vegas that would be vaguely useful to us – we snapped them up even quicker.  Best deal ever – two flights in the summer for just £240 (just the cost of the taxes, plus 90,000 miles).

Between us we actually had enough miles for two free business class flights.  This was a tough decision, but not being able to combine the miles using online booking, and really not wanting to wait until we can speak to someone to nail down those flights (I’m completely paranoid about losing them once we find a good deal) we made the booking on economy.  I’m going to call in the morning and see if there’s any way we can use Claire’s miles now to upgrade, but even if not … what a bargain!

So that’s virtually my entire diamond club balance gone, but the countdown to Summer O’ Poker III can officially begin.  Two hundred and eighty six long and probably wet days.

I don’t think this will be our next Vegas trip though.  If for no other reason (and let’s face it, any excuse is a good excuse) we need to go at least once more before the summer to maintain silver status with BMI.  Possibly twice :)   With the current promotion of 3x miles on all flights before the end of the year, and 50% extra on all Las Vegas flights until the end of October, if we can fit in a trip in half term then it’s virtually a free flight.  There’s a £500 premium economy ticket that almost has my name on it.  Just need to find out if Claire’s "training day" on the Monday is an actual training day or a teachers bonus day.

With 50% extra miles on premium, plus the promotions, we’re looking at somewhere between 50,000 and 75,000 miles depending on just how the offers combine.  45,000 miles gets you an economy flight to the USA.  Can we say +EV!

The Powerhouse!

Some would say I was ahead the whole time.

I played The Powerhouse rather loosely from the small blind with a bunch of limpers, picked up middle pair, then free turn card brought me a straight flush draw. I foolishly ended up paying two bets on the turn, only having one out to the absolute nuts (although the bottom end of the straight flush isn’t too shabby).  Very poor.  Another 5 (2 outs) or completing my straight (6 outs) would have got me into a whole pile of trouble with this garbage.

And then, magic.

The other guy had Jc Kc, and the river Ac had turned his second best flush into the best flush, but the second best hand.  Darn that four bet cap…


And then say hello to Mr Tilt.  Two hands later, this guy cracked aces with T7o after calling three bets cold preflop and getting involved with whole bunch of action when he flopped middle pair.

I have never been so popular.

New blood drive

I thought it was time that I got myself a couple more readers and double the readership.  I have been posting regularly for four months now, so that should be plenty to get myself listed in some blog directories.

If you find this page from a random search or a link on a directory, drop me a line or post a comment!  If you have a blog of your own and want to exchange links let me know too.

Gambling Commission response

I asked whether it was in fact OK for casinos to bump up the rake, and if so whether there was an upper limit.

Thank you for your email.

Casino guideline 3 sets out the advice for running card room competitions including the permitted fee for the competition.

There is also provision under the Gaming Clubs (Hours and Charges) Regulations 1984 for a casino to charge an hourly rate for the use of the facilities. This could be in addition to any fixed charge. There is no mention of a maximum hourly amount in the Act.

The price of poker just went up, Vince

At Leicester Gala the £20+£2 tournament on Wednesday is now a £20+£7.

That’s a 26% rake!

Well, no it’s not. That would be illegal. Instead, there’s a £5 "session fee" that you have to pay before you can register for the tournament. And apparently they not only have the backing of the Gaming Board to do this, Gala is piloting the scheme for them to see if works well enough to use at casinos across the country.

The fee does cover you for as much as you want to play that night, however. Whoopy doo. If you’re very unlucky you could perhaps fit in two sit-and-goes (I have no idea if that’s the correct way to pluralise it) but if you do well, or have no intention of playing anything else after you bust it’s another five quid on top of a twenty quid tournament.  You effectively get taxed more when you win, than when you keep on losing.

The terrible thing is that people are already paying this. Even worse is that last night those people included me. Well, I’d driven an hour to get there and if I’m prepared to drive a 140 mile round trip to play in that game it does seem a little on the stubborn side to go straight home once I’m there. Won’t be going again though.  Numbers were down, with 40 runners compared to the usual sell-out 56, but the night before they’d still managed to fill the room for the, effectively, £10+£6 tournament.  If they owned up to what the charge really was, that would be a 38% rake.

Las Vegas Advisor maintains a list of the poker tournaments in town with their respective percentage paybacks.  Only Sunset Station and Sams Town are this greedy, which actually surprised me a little.  Even the quick and nasty tourist tournaments on the strip are 80-85% payback.

Geoff and I spoke to cardroom manager Steve, who was obviously disappointed that he had to do this, knowing that it would drive away many of the regular players.  However this seems to be exactly what those higher up are trying to achieve.  You see, the Play and Party Poker Zone is not really a cardroom.  The casino is not interested in developing poker players or creating loyalty, because they do not generate any profits until they are either paying their 10% on three-figure buy-in tournaments or generating hourly seat charges in cash games.  And whilst a £100 tournament would attract a handful of gamblers who fancy a shot at a big prize, it’s something that takes more effort to promote than a regular game, and not something you can do every night in a provincial casino.  So it’s quantity over quality, and they just want to get as many players through the door as possible hoping that if you throw enough suckers in the direction of a roulette table then some will stick.

So why am I so upset about this?  I guess mostly because of the stealthy and semi-legal way in which it’s been done.  The Gambling Commission’s Guidelines for the Casino Industry document states that a registration fee may be no more than 10% or £50, whichever is greater.  Simply calling the charge a "session fee" doesn’t cut it, and I just can’t see how this is legal.

The casinos who have put pressure on the Gambling Commission to take action against borderline-illegal clubs – who take a "service charge" out of every pot, don’t anyone dare say the word "rake" – are hypocrites.  Now is a time when poker desparately needs a new way of being regulated to protect the player from an inevitable undesirable element.  If indeed the GC are behind this scheme, as Steve suggested, all they have managed to come up with is a way to allow the regulated venues to charge an unlimited rake and legally fleece their players.  Well, I guess that’s what casinos have been doing for years, just not quite so blatently.  Meantime the clubs that do cater for those that just want to play some cards (there’s no blackjack, no roulette, just a 10% rake – let’s call a spade a spade here) are still waiting to hear whether they will get shut down.

It’s that time again…

It’s time for Party Poker’s occasional, but always welcome, $100 deposit bonus. I played this in almost exactly the same way to the last one, so let’s see how it compares, shall we?

Hands played:  1474 (for 1000 raked hands)
Hours played:  20.1 (approx 10 hours, playing 2 tables)
Rake paid:     $54.75
Amount won:    $35.87 (1.22 BB per 100 hands)
Win rate:      $3.59/hr
Bonus awarded: $100
Rate w/ bonus: $13.59/hr

Always good to see Party Poker losing money. They lost $45.25 here.

My win rate is almost half what it was last time, but I had three horrendous beats which I copied the hand histories of, determined to write up into a ranty blog entry. But then I thought better of it, you’ll be glad to hear. Each time I lost with a very strong, but still second best, hand and for such monster vs monster situations to happen three times so close together was unusual. If I look back and think there might be something worth talking about, other than just my rotten luck, I may still post them. The poorer win rate shows just how much bonuses rock though – overall I only dropped from $15.98/hr to $13.59/hr – so not huge bucks but nothing to be sneezed at when I can be doing it at the same time as clearing the crud from my email inbox, or coordinating a server reboot.

Non-geeks may look no further.

Vol. Put $ In Pot:       15.94%
Pre-flop Raise:           9.90%
Post-flop Aggression:     2.93
Won $ When Saw Flop:     37.97%
Went to Showdown:        29.70%
Won $ At Showdown:       50.63%
Folded SB to Steal:      92.31%
Folded BB to Steal:      62.50%
Attempt to Steal Blinds: 35.62%

So compared to last time, I saw slightly more showdowns (29.70% vs 26.35%) but won at showdown quite a lot less (50.63% vs 63.01%).  Last time I noted that I may not be paying enough river bets, but my win rate was much better then.  Maybe this was just the cards – nothing can be proved from a 1500 hand sample size.  I don’t really even know why I post these stats… maybe somebody finds them interesting!


So America can’t play poker online any more.

That’s not strictly true.  As I understand it, and to be honest I haven’t done extensive research to work out which versions I’ve read are the complete truth, it’s going to become an offence to fund gambling transactions through a US-based financial institution.  The bill – which has still not become law – does not make it any less legal than it currently is for Americans to play online poker.

Today my mailbox started filling up with newsletters from various affiliate programs reacting to the news.  Interestingly, I’ve not yet had anything from a poker site directed towards me as a player, only as an affiliate.  A few statements have been issued, with a handful of sites claiming it’s business as usual (well done particularly to Absolute Poker, whose shirt I am wearing inadvertently today, but had I realised the significance it would be with pride) and the rest saying, well, really we don’t know what to do yet.

Here are some excerpts from the emails I received today:

"As of today Betfred have stopped taking business from US customers in the wake of recent prohibitive legislation by the US government. To clarify, this means that US residents and/or US citizens will not be able to use Betfred at all for telephone betting, online sports betting, casino or poker."

"Our software and ECash provider for, The Sands and Omni Casino, CryptoLogic and ECashDirect, have made the decision to no longer service US registered accounts.  Consequently, all accounts with US based addresses will no longer be able to play in the casino or poker room as of 12PM EST today October 3rd.  Our sister casino 49er Casino uses a different provider, Real Time Gaming (RTG) who has not announced any changes due to these new regulations."

These two seem to be simply overreacting however the legislation may have given them the final push to block access to US players.  It’s unlikely that this is the real reason for kneejerk.  Last week William Hill already decided to dump their US players, probably in light of the Peter Dicks and David Carruthers arrests.  It makes sense that Betfred would follow suit, and the tone of SunPoker’s email suggests that they wouldn’t care if they still had a payment provider that hadn’t jumped ship.

"(InterPoker) regret to inform you that from 11am EST on 3rd October 2006, we will be closing all US gaming accounts. Player’s balances, minus uncleared bonuses, will be returned to players  within the next 3 – 4 weeks by check and you will cease to earn revenue share from these players in the future."

InterPoker also use EcashDirect and Cryptologic, so I guess their hands are tied too.  However this is quite drastic.  Less than three hours after this email was sent, all their US accounts are being automaticaly closed.  However they are going to take nearly a month to send those guys their money back.  The final statement is somewhat redundant – how could you earn revenue from a closed account anyway?  Or do they mean they’re just going to keep that commission anyway?  This is what started me thinking… and then…

"PartyGaming will no longer accept wagers from US customers once the act becomes law. Customers resident in the United States, or accessing us from the USA will no longer be able to access our real money gaming services. … Percentage Plan revenues from US customers will continue until the point those customers are unable to play for real i.e. until the legislation becomes law."

This is huge.  Party’s stock price has plunged by over half since Friday, and understandably so when they have reacted so dramatically so quickly.  Almost all of the other major operators’ statements have been undecided until they work out how the new law will actually affect them.  Party – the largest on the net – have immediately said that they will block access to US customers.

My cynical mind sees a problem here.  Firstly, their play money servers will remain available to US players.  Whilst play money poker is clearly not illegal, why would they bother keeping the servers open? only exists as a decaf version of the real thing to give new players a taste for the action.  And it works.  So if there is any possible loophole to exploit, Party will be back in the market.  Whilst Ecash is solely a gaming transaction provider, Party would be able to carry on using Neteller at least – a European company that has already stated that the US law cannot touch them.  I just don’t believe they really mean this.

The statement about affiliate revenue makes me very suspicious.  Even if it becomes difficult to play poker online, some players will be serious enough and make enough money to carry on despite the hurdles they have to overcome.  The biggest players are those likely to have an illegal rakeback agreement, and even if they don’t many will have been referred via an affiliate bonus code.  Party already has a history of closing down affiliates who give a share of commission back to their players – so here is an ideal opportunity to sever those affiliate ties and take back the 25% of the rake they are paying out.

You have to wonder just how much that affiliate commission amounts to and whether it is comparable to the amount of business Party stand to lose if they had simply issued an "undecided" statement.