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Welcome to the 1990s

It’s a good few weeks since I’ve been in this part of town so this could be pretty old news.  But worth mentioning nonetheless.

The last remaining city on the giant coffee house bingo card can be crossed off.  Stoke-on-Trent finaly has a Starbucks!

I had to double-take when I saw this walking through the Potteries Shopping Centre in Hanley but the arrow did not mislead.  A few seconds later I was handing over two quid and change for a very, very large cup of coffee.  Bliss.

There’s a price to pay though.  It’s taken over the entire food court, so Stoke now has a different dubious honour: it’s the only city in the UK without a Burger King.

A drink with a deadly weapon

On Sunday, I went to see the NFL International Series game at Wembley.  It’s kind of a big deal to take a meaninful American Football game to Europe, even if it was only a meaningful game for one team.

We were subjected to many reminders that this year was the anniversary of the 1972 Miami Dolphins perfect season.  By definition, isn’t every year an anniversary?  I had to work out that it’s the 35th all by myself - the much celebrated Coral anniversary.  Yesterday’s game went to form though, making it eight straight losses for Miami and putting them half way towards the wrong kind of perfect season.

The day in pictures:

Executive flip-down seating with beverage holders.

Random pre-game entertainment: Cheerleaders, The Feeling and some giant shirts.

Dolphins warm up.  Watching this from a distance it looks like a party in The Sims.

Fireworks as the teams run out on the pitch for the third time.

Miami throws up a prayer.

The Great British weather in attendance.

These photos were taken from my £125 "exclusive" Club Wembley seat.  After missing out on three separate ticket ballots, I was well and truly suckered in by a masterpiece of marketing that goes a little something like this:

1. Release tickets in small chunks to create mass hysteria
2. Wait to see how much those tickets sell for on eBay (answer: up to £300 a pair)
3. Magically find another 17,000 tickets and set the price only ever-so-slightly lower than people are paying to the touts.

Wembley’s list of prohibited items is not vague about some of the things you’re not allowed to take in.  Obviously weapons are not allowed, but I had to wonder what incident had led to the specific inclusion of darts on that list, and whether it involved a comedy head trauma.

Although not on the list, it seems they have also a problem with bottle caps – apparently they can be used as offensive weapons.  Could someone please show me how?  I’m willing to sustain a considerable wound in the interests of getting an answer to this.

I’m not talking about metal beer bottle caps, which could probably inflict quite a nasty scratch, but plastic screw-on caps from bottles of pop.

I found out about this right at the turnstile.  Bored Security Goon #1 patted down my arms but decided he didn’t want to go any lower.  Not a problem.  Nobody keeps a dart in their pocket anyway, it’s always in the sleeve.  He was more interested in the half-drunk bottle of water in my bag.

- "Sir I see you have a bottle there and we can’t allow any bottles with caps inside".
- "Oh.  Why?"
- "Because it could be used as an offensive weapon."

I unscrew the offending sports cap.  This kind actually could be used to create a water-pistol like jet if I squeezed the bottle really hard.  "What, this?" I ask, trying to hold it threateningly.  BSG#1 just ignores me and waves me through.

So I now have a capless bottle of water in one hand and the lethal cap of death in the other.  If only I could work out how to put this darn thing back together.

Well, I nearly got away with it but Bored Security Goon #2 piped up as I walked past him, "Take a sip of your water please".  Ok fine.  This actually makes some sense.  "Now finish it up and throw the bottle in this bag".

Logic has left the building.

Upstairs we’re greeted by a couple of fake cheerleaders who sign me up for a prize draw to win, wait for it, some cufflinks.  I’m already too confused to argue so I just do what I’m told.  Claire was signed up for the prize draw too.  Apparently the female prize is also cufflinks.

I went to buy a drink inside the stadium.  Nervous Guy assistant kindly opened my bottle of coke for me.  "Can’t I have the caps?", I asked while he struggled to work out my change from a twenty.  I’d actually bought two drinks, and his training hadn’t covered that yet.  As he handed the caps back with a shrug, something rumbled in the distance as I realised I probably just got him fired.

I really don’t like it when someone talks to me like I’m fucking five years old.  Especially when I’m not acting it.  I’d already tried to get to my seat to be told "you can look through the window if you want but you’re not allowed in".  Now, we meet Bottle Bitch.

- "You can’t have the cap"
- "Why?"
- "Because… well I think you know why".

For fucks sake, seriously?  Was it such a retarded question?  I really, honestly don’t know.

- "You could throw it onto the pitch"

I hadn’t seen my seat yet, but I figured I’d need quite an arm to tickle the sideline with a tiny piece of plastic.

Claire and I had a bottled drink each, and while we started pointing out many other things that were much easier to make into a missle – including the handful of change that Nervous Guy had finally worked out – she swooped in and snatched away one of the caps.

Just one.  And as much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t work out how to kill someone with the other.

Malfunction

The picture below is Gary Hoffman taking his own photograph in front of a slot machine jackpot.  It’s not a bad photo for an arms-length camera phone shot, but you think he’d look a little happier.  Maybe he was saving up a nice cheesy grin for the inevitable picture on Winner’s Wall.  Or perhaps he already knew what was going to happen…

The machine’s screen shows that he just hit a whopping $1.6 million jackpot on a Mystical Mermaid nickel slot machine.

Quite how this reel combination triggered a jackpot, I’m not exactly sure.  Any major payout on a video slot machine is going to need five adjacent identical symbols.  Even with some of the wacky winning ways on a 20-line machine (this game shows the mess of win lines about as clearly as you could hope for) I can’t see anywhere that a row of five could be possible, even if it used wild symbols.

Usually a seven-figure jackpot would require something very specific like five wilds right along the middle pay line, and that’s definitely not the case here.

How the jackpot was hit isn’t the big issue here anyway.  This machine has a maximum payout of 50,000 coins, equal to $2500 in nickels, and it wasn’t (and in fact cannot be) linked to a progressive jackpot meter.  Clearly something broke.

The legend printed on all slot machines is "Malfunction voids all pays and plays".  The media coverage of this story insists on referring to this as "small print".  I guess it’s fairly small, but it’s not exactly tucked away out of sight.  It’s right above the hole where you feed your money, right next to the button you press to spin the reels, and there’s a huge lighted yellow arrow pointing to it.  In the picture above, just follow the arrow verically down from his nose and this disclaimer would be in the box right underneath the tip.

If you play slots you’ll have seen it many times, but in this case, it’s common sense anyway.  There’s no way that a machine trying to pay out a random jackpot way in excess of it’s maximum when the reels are aligned to no winning combination is anything but a malfunction and you’re not going to get paid.

With no obligation to do so, the casino offered to pay Hoffman the $2500 maximum, but he declined and instead filed a lawsuit for the $1.6m.

It’s the casino’s defense that’s caused the story to make national news.  The incident happened at the Sandia Resort and Casino in New Mexico, which is located on a Native American reservation.  The tribe is exerting their identity as an independent nation (the very reason that gambling can take place on their land at all) in order to have the case dismissed.  They insist that any legal action involving an incident on their territory may only take place through their own court system and not a state court.

Even though Hoffman’s case is a pointless waste of time with no chance of winning, it might not even get to be heard.  Nobody seems to be quite sure how exactly you would go about suing an Indian Casino – even if you actually had a genuine grievance – if they can simply claim sovereign immunity at the first sign of trouble.  "What happens here happens only if we say so" is not such an attractive proposition.

However, any distrust that is generated through the publicity of this claim will almost certainly be shortlived as it is displaced by the human urge to gamble.

Even Hoffman himself, pissed off and $1.6m out of pocket, has been giving Sandia plenty of action since the incident in August 2006.  The casino has revealed that he has visited more than 70 times in the first six months of 2007 – nearly three times a week!

No bad beats

There are no bad beats in Blackjack - one of the reasons I’ve been enjoying playing it so much lately.  What’s the worst that’s going to happen?  You’ve made a 20 and the dealer shows  a 6.  Two hits later he’s got 21 and you lose.  It sucks, but he’s going to beat you about 10% of the time here.

So it has to be a particularly lucky or unlucky streak to make it worth talking about, let alone posting a hand history – something I never thought I’d be doing.

I signed up a new account to William Hill Casino in a friend’s name.  This is a trusting friend who isn’t exactly up to speed with where I’m gambling on their behalf, but it’s an arrangement that works great for me – I need more friends like that!

This gave me another go at their £50 signup bonus before it finishes at the end of this month – apparently to be replaced by a new and improved monthly bonus, which we’ll have to wait and see but I would expect it means one of the easiest casino signup bonuses is not going to be around much longer.

So this series of hands (raw hand history here) is the first ten hands I played using that account.  Every single one of them lost.  Bad karma for cheating the system perhaps, but it definitely demonstrates that there’s no such thing as "new depositors’ luck" at this site.

No casino operator with a clue and the ability to rig things even slightly would want a new player’s first experience to be ten losing hands of blackjack.  The odds are about 700-1 against.

Hand 1:
I’m dealt 17 and stand.  Dealer shows a 4, turns over another 4, then hits an 8 and then a 2 making 18.

Hand 2:
I stand on 18.  Dealer shows a 2, turns over a 3, then hits a ten and a 5 for a winning 20.

Hand 3: Another 17.  Dealer shown 8 and obviously has a ten in the hole.

Hand 4: With Q, 2 and dealer showing an ace I have to hit my 12.  I draw a ten to bust.

Hand 5: Dealer shows another ace and I bust after hitting my T, 6 and drawing a 9.

Hand 6: With a dealt 7, 3 at least I can’t bust with a single hit.  Best I can do though is another 7, which isn’t nearly enough to beat the dealer’s J, K for 20.

Hand 7: Perhaps 18 can win this time with my T, 8 against a dealer’s upcard 3.  Nope.  He’s got a 9 under there, makes it a promising 15 and pulls a miracle 5 for yet another 20.

Hand 8:  I have to double down on my 4, 5 against the dealer’s 4 and only manage to muster a 3.  Twelve doesn’t beat much, let alone the dealer’s piss-taking 21.

Hand 9: Soft 18 is a stand against the dealer’s 2.  Can he beat it?  Yes he can: K in the hole, and 8 makes 20.

Hand 10: Can’t split a pair of 7s when the dealer shows a ten, so I hit it.  At least the 4 doesn’t bust me, but 18 isn’t enough.  A 3 in the hole is promising at first, then he hits a 2 and 4 for 19.  Of course.

That spooktacular time of year

Claire just tipped me off to this fantastic seasonal advice in the Player’s Edge column in today’s Las Vegas Review Journal.  The piece discusses current slot club promotions which right now includes much halloween-themed goodness.

Halloween gamblers warning: While the casinos encourage players to wear costumes on Halloween, several do not permit masked customers at the tables (especially blackjack). And under no circumstance should players approach the cage wearing a mask.

Among the latest offers, Texas Station is giving away a "Halloween Collector Dauber Gift Set" to bingo winners, and I can only imagine how great it would be to get my hands on one of those.

But it’s the free slot tournament Terrible’s that rules all – if not for the value of the promotion itself, then for the awesome advertisement:

You can click on that image to see the full ad, but it’s all about the mummified Mr Terrible.

Best casino mascot ever.

Atlantic City’s first kerblammo moment

While next month will see the New Frontier become the 15th casino to be imploded in Las Vegas, Atlantic City had it’s first ever controlled demolition on the Boardwalk on Thursday when the Sands was turned to dust.

Several videos have hit YouTube.  This one has the best view I’ve found but skip in 1m15s if you want to avoid watching a dude with a hard hat talking about explosives and get straight to the action.

To see more of the preceding fireworks, check out the video of the live MSNBC coverage, with which you also get to listen to some fantastic analysis by the announcer. "Looks like the dynamite hasn’t gone off yet", he says, which clearly explains why the building is still standing.  Invaluable.

This amateur video is also worth a look.  It was shot from the roof of Bally’s and shows all the fireworks and a view of the tower collapsing from really close by.  The best bit, though, is right at the end where you see everyone legging it back into the casino approximately two seconds after it’s hit the ground.  After all, they went there to gamble…

Proving Sklansky right

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.

– David Sklansky’s Fundamental Theorem of Poker

It’s now pretty much a certainty that at least one player on Absolute Poker has been able to play real money games while being able to see all of his opponents’ hole cards. 

Absolute are saying publicly "this never actually happened" but privately "oh shit, we’re fucked".  I’m speculating, obviously, but it seems likely.   This is a poker site that used to dominate the BonusWhores.com newsletter with their almost-daily reload offers, but now they are top of their blacklisted sites list.  PocketFives.com have also stopped taking their advertising money, and I’m sure this is only the beginning.  Nobody with any sense will ever play there again for an amount of money that matters.

If you want to see the damning evidence and don’t want to trawl through many very long forum threads, jump straight to the latest updates on 2+2 or read this excellent summary on Nat Arem’s blog.

Or you could just hit play on this video.  Thanks to an administrative cock-up of gigantic proportions, Absolute have given out a master hand history that shows player POTRIPPER winning a $1000 buy-in tournament while playing just about every hand perfectly.  It really is just like he can see what everyone else is holding, over and over again.

This is just part 1.  Get parts 2 to 4 here.

Sure, he gets sucked out on a couple of big pots, but it’s exactly like Sklansky says: if you can see everyone’s cards, you’re going to win money. 

The basic strategy is to see a flop with any two cards, and then:

- If your opponent has a huge hand, just check and fold.
- If there is any hand you can represent to scare your opponent, bet or raise.
- If you have a monster or your opponent has nothing, let them catch up or give them chance to bluff.

The chances of this playing style being legitimate are as close to zero as you could possibly imagine.

Something doesn’t add up

This was only a temporary blip after I left four tables simultanously, but it was still a WTF moment.

I’m not sure which I like more:

The fact that for a moment I apparently owed the iPoker network over ninety two quadrillion dollars, and that because they can handle a such a large negative number they must also have designed their systems to be able to deal with the same order of magnitude in a positive balance.  I’m looking forward to watching the $2bn/$4bn game.

Or the whole "minus minus two billion and something dollars point minus eight" thing.  There are just so many ways that it’s not even a number…

A whoring we will go

Although Party Poker’s reload bonuses are useless these days, there’s still value to be had at Empire Poker.  The two sites are the same, it’s the same players at the same tables, the only things that are different are the colour schemes and the loyalty point schemes.  So becuse Empire doesn’t have Party Points, the bonuses still are awarded based on you having to play a specific number of raked hands.

This weekend’s bonus was $100, with 1000 raked hands required to release.  Or, I noticed, the alternative was to cycle $1000 through blackjack.  Quite a difference from the last Party bonus I was offered, which would have required $120,000 in action!  As there’s still very few full ring limit tables to grind this out on, using blackjack to collect my free money was an easy decision.

I’ve actually been playing a lot of blackjack lately, as I’ve rekindled my interest in exploiting casino welcome bonuses.  The last time I did this on any great scale was over six years ago, at a time where the play requirements were much less strict and you could often deposit, play and cash out a reasonable bonus in under an hour.

My strategy was to just blitz as many different casinos as possible, banking whatever small profit was forthcoming and moving onto the next casino.  It was very effective, and I even wrote a foolproof beat-the-casino system based on it.  It sold a handful of copies -  maybe as many as five…

Back then, it only felt right to take my ill-gotten gains to Las Vegas and give them back to the casino industry, which I happily did.  This time I still intend to take the money to Vegas, but my mission doesn’t involve blowing a chunk of cash – instead I’m going to earn enough to pay for the house rental for next summer, which will be $2000-3000.  My incentive for doing well is to ensure we can get a place with a pool again!

Today, the play requirements on casino bonuses are much tougher, with many casinos excluding some or all forms of blackjack from the promotion entirely.  If you have to wager thousands on slots for your bonus, you’re probably not going to come out a winner.  But if you can clock up the play using blackjack, even with a 20x or higher release restriction, you still have a big edge on that game.

To find the house edge, you can plug the exact rules into the Wizard of Odds House Edge Calculator.  In the Empire game (8 decks, dealer hits soft 17, double after split, double on any two cards, split pairs up to 4 hands, cannot resplit aces, cannot hit split aces, dealer checks for blackjack, late surrender available) the house edge with optimal play is 0.57%, and with realistic play 0.66%.

Therefore after $1000 in play, the house should expect to win $6.60, leaving you with $93.40 of your $100 bonus for yourself.  Even if there was a 20x or 30x play through required, there’d still be plenty of bonus left over.  10x is very generous indeed.

The last time I played a Party Poker bonus for the same amount, it took up six hours of my life playing 4-6 tables of poker and I paid about $35 in rake, so effectively they paid me about $11/hr to be there before any wins or losses are taken into account.

Playing the bonus on blackjack took me just 2.5 hours to churn through 1000 hands at $1 each, for a theoretical hourly rate of $37.  In fact, for the results oriented, I also won $27 on top of the $100 bonus!

Blackjack has its advantages over poker when it comes to racking up bonus play.  The game is available around the clock without you having to contend with a waiting list, or wait for enough players to fill a new table.  To find 4-6 tables of limit running, you can only play at peak times.

It also doesn’t really matter whether you play $1/$2 or $5/10 or higher, you’ll only earn slightly more raked hands as you increase stakes.  The only way to clear the bonus faster is to open up more tables.  With blackjack, however, if you want to get through your bonus quicker, you can just bet more per hand.  You trade a higher chance of wiping out for the higher hourly rate, but your expectation on the bonus remains the same as long as you’re prepared to deposit more money to finish it off if necessary.

Most importantly, you absolutely don’t have to put your life on hold to play casino bonuses.  Take a break whenever you like, there’s no panic if the doorbell rings in the middle of a hand, and no need to wait for the blinds to come round on every table if you need a dump.  I even managed to run through this bonus while I was four-tabling poker for another site’s bonus at the same time… multiple whorage!

The only thing I’m missing with blackjack is the four colour deck… why won’t somebody make that an option?

WSOP too early again

Not that I’m especially bothered, but qualifying for the Main Event would have been something to aim for, even though I’d have taken any opportunity to cash in my ten large and play smaller tournaments with it instead.

The World Series of Poker 2008 will take place between May 30th and July 17th 2008.  I’ll roll into town a few days after all that.  Oh well…