March 2007
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A chocolate jackpot

Motorway service stations are the perpetrators of one of my biggest pet peeves.  Their business is to sell stuff to motorists, a group that is largely comprised – particularly during the day – of solo travellers.  Yet virtually everything in their shops is priced in such a way that you cannot just buy one of them.  They’re clearly doing you a huge favour with their multibuys – on bottles of Coke, for instance, £2 for two is not nearly so overpriced as £1.30 each.  It’s gotten to be rare that you can find anything to drink that isn’t priced this way.

The reason this winds me up so much – and the reason I so often go without purely out of spite – is not the excessive pricing, it’s that you’re put in a situation where whatever decision you make is bad.  Either you can pay the solo traveler tax (that’s 30% on every bottle of Coke you buy on its own) or you can pay the difference and take that second bottle that you don’t really want for a price you wouldn’t ordinarily pay.  70p seems cheap compared to £1.30 for the first bottle, but it’s not really, and it’ll be warm by the time you want it so you’ll probably just take it home and put it in the fridge where it can sit next to the case of drinks you bought from the cash and carry and smirk at you every time you open the door.

So here’s a top tip I discovered tonight at Donnington Park services on the M1.  Their Travelodge has a vending machine in reception which sells bottles of soft drinks, one at a time, for a quid a pop.  As most service stations have some kind of hotel, I’ll definitely be trying this trick in future.  It’s most satisfying to have beaten the system.

However it’s even more satisfying to hit a once-in-a-lifetime chocolate jackpot.  I decided to splurge on a pack of Jaffa Cakes so I fed the other vending machine accordingly.  As the packet started to move forward, it got caught on the shelf above and would not drop.  I prepared myself for giving the machine a bit of a kick and a shake – whatever it takes to get my confectionery – but there was no need.  These clever modern machines can detect that nothing dropped out, so it kept on pushing.  The second pack also got jammed on the shelf above and it kept pushing still further.  I reached for my camera phone, of course, because that’s a natural reaction for anyone to have to this kind of situation, but unfortunately I was just too late to get a picture .  Three packs of Jaffa cakes plopped into the tray for the price of one.


The Stardust was imploded at about 2:30am Vegas time.

Other people’s money

The guy in seat ten has just £17 left in front of him in the £25-£50 buy in pot limit game at Gutshot when it’s time to pay the £3 hourly donation.  Everyone throws in their chips except him.  "Let me just see if I can win a hand", he says, "and then I’ll pay you".  The dealer shrugs whatever – after all the contributions are voluntary, and he’s only working for tips.  It’s just bad karma to mess with the system.

I don’t remember whether he sat down with the full £50 but he hadn’t reloaded, and I’d be surprised if anyone wasn’t aware that he’d not picked up a hand all evening.  That’s clearly a good enough reason to have a bit of a gamble with the club’s money before deciding whether to donate.  The times he gets lucky, he pays his dues afterwards but keeps the extra profit he won from having that £3 in his stack.  The times he loses, the donation simply gets pushed across the table to another player, who surely won’t think to – or see why they should – pay it for him now.

And so it happens.  Mr Cheap manages to get it all in pre-flop with pocket nines and is called by five other players.  Two others make it to showdown with him, both with undercards to his pair, and 99 ends up the third best hand.  Should his hand – by far the best pre-flop – hold up here, he would be £15 better off than he should be thanks to gambling with his risk-free loan.  Funny how these things work themselves out.

On the other hand, sometimes it seems like they don’t want your money.  Tonight I played for four hours and only coughed up the hourly fee once.  The first time they came to collect – after a new table had been running for 90 minutes – most of the players stood up and went to another table or upstairs to the tournament.  We played a few hands three handed before tournament bustees started to join us (it’s freeroll Monday, so this didn’t take long) but they didn’t come back for a donation for another hour and a half, and after that the next time anyone thought to try and collect some actual revenue from the poker tables, I’d already started to leave.

The player to my right, Chen – a young chinese man who I struggled to understand at times, but due just as much to my cloth ears as to the slight accent adorning his perfect English – asked me how the club could make money.  This was after we’d played for over two hours without contributing a penny, so I explained what should happen.  I’d already told him that soft drinks were free, but tonight they weren’t, so at every available opportunity he’d been turning to me and muttering "one pound fifty!" with a cheeky grin.  Hey, tonight you pay for your drinks but the table time is cheap.

I expect that Chen, along with almost everyone else there, probably did not understand the reason for the new sign on the door: "Operated by Clerkenwell Clubs Ltd".  The former company is – and there’s really no better word to use than this – busto.  The question should be not how they make money, but do they actually make money?

Usually the internet room would bring in some revenue, whether it’s from renting out workstations by the hour or offering them free to play Gutshot’s own online poker.  But right now, it’s all offline because the ADSL is disconnected.  I couldn’t possibly believe that this is because they didn’t pay the bill, when there’s a perfectly good alternative explanation: the change of ownership must have confused their ISP enough to result in a full week of downtime.

Anyway, I’m now four for four (which I just discovered should never be written in words) winning sessions in the £25/£50 game.  I’m due a loss for sure, and tonight should have been one.  I got lucky at the right time to finish up £56 instead of… looks like it would have been £12 down.

Holding a pair of tens, I raised the pot from the big blind after 5 people limped and I got 3 callers. The flop was jack-high with 2 small cards.  I checked as did two others and the last player to act bet £10 into the £26 pot.  He only had another £11 left so I made a minimum raise – thinking this would either get me to a fairly cheap showdown against the short stack or tell me for sure that I’m beaten by one of the other players.  It’s not a great play - I’m still making limit hold’em moves that don’t belong in pot limit games and tournament moves that don’t belong in cash games - but it did what I wanted, even if what I wanted to do was not a terribly good idea.

In effect I was taking just better than 2-1 pot odds on the chance that he holds a worse hand than mine – possibly a smaller pocket pair, or that he’s betting overcards in position as a semi-bluff.  In retrospect, as he would have been pot-committed to any raise he almost certainly had to have at least a jack here.   And he did, but I somehow spiked a ten on the river to ourdraw his top pair, top kicker.  Nice hand me.

Neteller pays up!

Pleasantly surprised by Neteller’s eventual response to this complaint.

I have given careful consideration to the concerns raised and I accept that we should have advised you prior to changing the currency of the withdrawal.

In the circumstances I am willing to refund the amount of $111.61 which relates to the exchange rates incurred.

It’s a dollar out, but what are you gonna do?  It’s $111.61 more than I expected to get!

2 much risk 4 u?

This text from Sporting Index came alongside yet another promo that I must be able to find a way to exploit this weekend.  Register for their mobile betting service, and they’ll cover net losses on sports up to £50, it says.

Getting set up turned out not to be as easy as texting some word to some shortcode number, as part one of the text suggested.  I’ve still had no response, so I’m not yet convinced this isn’t part of some kind of scam.

I know it’s the law 2 make sum abbrvs 4 txt, but would you really expect the compulsory high risk warning that is required by FSA-regulated spread betting firms to look like this?

More free money from Sporting Index

Can’t complain at a free money promo three weekends in a row.  This time I couldn’t even wait for the weekend after checking the terms: it’s valid from 00:00am on Thursday!

It’s the same deal as last time, with net losses of up to £30 refunded provided you make at least 5 bets.  So I placed the same bets as last time: £6 on red all the way to qualify for the offer, then betting a 2-1 shot to try and win something serious.

After the five spins I was two for five: 19, 2, 8, 2, 5.  One more try to get back even (followed by doubling up to chase my "losses" if this failed) brought 12 and I was in business.  I stuck to lumping £30 on the first dozen for a risk-free chance of £60, not paying attention to the fact that the last five numbers would all have been winners on that bet and, naturally, it landed right in the middle of the table on 23.  But if they keep offering this freebie, one day I’ll hit it…  it’s worth having a Sporting Index account just for these deals!

I looked back at the calculation from my last post where I thought I’d figured out that laying black had a much smaler house edge than betting on red.  The software tries to be clever and keep its bet increments in whole numbers although it doesn’t quite work.  The closest you get to a £6 bet is selling at 0.94 for £5.67 per point, making it a £6.01 proposition to win £5.33.

The expected value with these figures over 37 spins is therefore (18 x £6.01) – (19 x £5.33)  = -£6.91.  That’s less than 19p per £6.01 bet, or about 3p in the pound – not too different from the normal 2.7% house edge in roulette.  So I was wrong in thinking this could possibly be the best roulette bet on the planet.  Nobody noticed though, did they…

Asking all the right questions

PokerStars offered me a whopping 300 FPPs to complete a survey.  That’s worth about 2 quid on Amazon  (assuming I ever regain VIP status in order to cash them in) or it’s three fifths the price of a Chris Moneymaker poster.  But why would I want to go and do a thing like that? 

I’m no expert on their range of posters, because I’m not 12 any more, so I don’t know which ones have proved popular.  However I did notice that the Moneymaker medallion is the only one still available from the strictly limited edition set of three issued last year.  Raymer and Hachem sold out a long time ago.

The survey seemed to be geared towards play money players, asking what kind of promotions I’d like to see in order to deposit and why I play for real money at other sites.  Not sure why I got this – it’s not like I stopped playing there completely, and I still have a real money balance as well as T$ and W$ to spend.  But it only took about a minute to whizz through the answers – all multiple choice – so worth checking your Stars account if you haven’t logged in lately.

I was only too pleased to answer this question:


Roulette excitement. Almost.

Roulette is not the most thrilling game anyway, but I can appreciate the recording of the £30 I bet with Sporting Index this weekend that didn’t actually cost me anything was pretty much at the bottom end of the excitement scale.  Even for me, whose money was almost at risk.

This one is slightly better.  Ashley Revell bets his life savings on red.

Yes, it’s old news, but I never thought to look for it online before and I’m glad I finally did.  When this was on TV, the sound quality was all over the place but in this version you can hear what the dealer is saying to him (just try to ignore the DIY Tarantino soundrack).  Sky One had to rush to get the program out on time.  It was meant to be live from the Hard Rock, but they changed their mind about accepting the bet and in the end the Plaza stepped up but it wasn’t allowed to be broadcast live.

For a bet of this size, I think they have every right to be paranoid.  The rule that the bet must to be placed before the ball has travelled twice around the wheel is to eliminate the use of any computer devices that can calculate where the ball will land from its speed.  Even so, such a device is only accurate in predicting a segment of the wheel (its users have to know the arrangement of numbers on the roulette wheel and bet accordingly) so it’s unlikely to be significant on a red/black bet.

The Plaza still have a sign on the "lucky" table to commemorate their huge loss.

Mad as a March Bonus [Part 3]

I didn’t really have time to play the bonus on Party Poker this weekend, but what the hell… 25% up to $100 with a ten times play requirement is pretty good.  Playing 4 to 6 tables of $25 NL I thought I’d rattle though it.  In fact sleep got the better of me last night – what a lightweight! – and it took a third session today to get there, but the end result was worth it.  I was in microlimit heaven :)

Hands played:  2070      (for 1000 raked hands)
Hours played:  28:52     (approx 6 man hours)
Rake paid:     $34.45    (bonus costs Party Poker $65.55)
Amount won:    $157.36   (15.2 BB per 100 hands)
Win rate:      $26.23/hr
Bonus awarded: $100.00
Rate w/bonus:  $42.89/hr

As my Poker Tracker is shafted (it actually ran out of disk space before Christmas and broke the PostgreSQL database, and I still haven’t fixed it) I set up Poker Office to play this bonus, which I haven’t used in a long time and had forgotten just how good it was.

I particularly like one of the features for multitabling: showing player actions.  Poker Tracker doesn’t have this.  The overlay projects a series of letters next to each player with C, R or X for whether they called, raised or checked on each betting round.  If you’re involved with two hands at the same time and can’t quite remember who raised pre-flop this can be very useful.

Mad as a March Bonus [Part 2]

Last weekend, Sporting Index threw a bonus deal at me because I hadn’t given them any action for atout 2 years.  It was effectively free money.  I had to deposit to play, but they would refund any losses up to £50 over the course of the weekend.  This was a refund of net losess, not on a single bet.  As they offer spread betting not fixed odds, taking full advantage of their generosity is a little trickier.

I hadn’t planned it that well last weekend and ran out of time before I could get one more bet before the deadline in whilst I’d still not lost the full £50.  In fact, on my last bet I committed a cardinal sin – I had ended up with a winning bet, but the only result of that was that I won back some of the money they were going to repay me anyway – not enough to take home a profit!  With this kind of promotion, the last bet you place should always make you busto (within the limits of the refund value) or guarantee a profit.  With sports spread betting, I found this tricky to anticipate with my hurriedly placed total goals and corners bets.

The key would be to find a bet that has a limited downside so you can’t lose more than £50, but also has the chance of hitting it big.  A total goals bet on soccer, buying at 2.5 goals for £20 per goal cannot lose more than £50 (for a 0-0 draw) but a three goal match only wins you £10 – you need to find a real goalfest to win a significant amount.

This weekend’s promotion is available to everyone, and is in a similar vein – a £30 net refund from your weekend’s bets, but for their virtual games rather than sports spread betting.  These games are gimmicky rubbish, allowing you to bet on fake horseracing, fake poker games, fake dice, fake slots and fake roulette as well as some really silly novelty games like a cartoon tank that fires footballs with random numbers into the air.

However I liked the look of the roulette game in order to play through this offer fairly easily so I had a go.  It’s a single zero game and you create your own market by placing chips as you would in a casino, and then betting higher or lower than an expected win amount that the system generates for you.

To keep things simple, I only looked at single unit bets and for every type of bet the market was set at 0.94-1.00.  In other words, when you buy the market at 1.00, the amount you win is exactly the same as you would win on a regular roulette table.  A single number still wins 36 times your stake and a red/black bet wins even money.  The house edge for each bet comes only from the zero on the wheel – 1 in 37, or just over 2.7% - just as it does in a casino.

The 0.94 figure is for when you want to bet against the spin producing a winner for whatever bet you placed on the roulette layout.  When you sell this market, you can win 0.94 times your stake but you risk the amount of the roulette payoff multiplied by your stake.  Betting against a single number, you could win 94p or lose £36 for a £1 stake whereas on an even money bet, you are laying £1 to win 94p.  The zero on the wheel works in your favour - you win 19 times out of 37, but the payoff is reduced.

If my calculations are correct, the edge on selling bet is very small.  For a red/black bet at £1, every 37 spins you will lose (18 x 100) and win (19 x 94), a net loss of 14p.  That’s a house edge of 0.38%!  I’d love someone (if only I knew a maths teacher, for instance…) to correct me here – that seems far too small, and I wish I’d noticed this before I actually started playing out this bonus!

I had also assumed that I would have to buy in any market in order to hit a big payoff.  Now I realise this is also not true.  I would have been able to cover multiple bets on the layout (e.g. two separate dozens) and sell that market for odds of roughly 2-1.  Effectively I’d be betting the other dozen as well as the zero, and this might have been a better bet than doing the bet the "normal" way round.

There was a five bet play requirement and although no minimum risk was stated I thought it was wise to at least make sure the £30 freebie was wagered in full.  I began with five £6 bets on red, intending to move on to a bigger bet after these five bets were complete.  Things didn’t start well: 22, 36, 26, 2, 6

Down to £12.  I’d need a 2-1 payoff to get back to be only £6 into profit.  It would have to be a 5-1 shot or longer to make it worthwhile.  I decided to play it a different way – try to gamble back up to the free £30 and then go for one win for that full amount on a 2-1, aiming for a £60 profit.

I put the remaining £12 on red.  21.  Hooray.  £6 more to get back even, so I played red one more time.  18.  Home and dry – almost.  Now just the small matter of trying to win something…

I bet the first dozen for £30.  If I win, it’s £60 profit and I’m cashing out.  If I lose, I get my £30 back on Monday.  A great position to be in.

Click here to watch the spin and retrospectively sweat it with me.  Remember, we’re looking for any number between 1 and 12…