December 2007
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The 21 days of Christmas

With just one week to go, it’s officially close enough to Christmas to start thinking about it now.  So first up how about a little Christmas music, courtesy of Mr Richard Cheese…

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Seven days to Christmas means it’s just five days to Vegas baby!  They don’t make an advent calendar for that, but it’s tradition for us to have a countdown to any trip in the living room using oversized playing cards.  From three weeks away, a different blackjack hand shows the number of days left until it’s time to gamble.

Hit me.

I’ve already spoilt the surprise of BMI’s Christmas present to me this year.  Yet again they’ve rewarded us for being loyal customers and booking months in advance by losing our window/aisle seat reservations.  When I called to check last week there were no adjacent window/aisle seats left.  The very same thing happened in the summer, except then I didn’t find out until I got to the airport.

The guy I spoke to thought he was being helpful by offering one window seat and one aisle seat just one row apart, but he really wasn’t.  Isn’t it in Seat Booking 101 to keep adjacent seats free rather than just plonking passengers randomly around the plane?  Whoever had requested the window seat must be on his own, even if the person behind him in the aisle seat is not (benefit of the doubt: they could have booked a group on either side of the aisle) so why not put those two passengers in the same row?

It could be the last time we’ll pay to fly with BMI anyway, with MaxJet being comparable on price for the peak dates we usually have to travel and all business-class too – it’s a no-brainer.

Anyway, back to Christmas.

Do I need to do much more than post a picture of Mr Terrible dressed as an elf, and wrapped up in Christmas lights to get into the festive spirit?

No, apparently not.

You thought 6-5 blackjack was bad?

Sporting Index were giving away more free money today, this time with their new blackjack game.  Make ten bets for a stake of 20p or greater, the offer boasted, and have your net losses refunded up to £30.

Sounded like a real bargain at first.  Could it really be as good as playing nine coinflip hands for 20p – a maximum swing of £1.80 either way - and then putting somewhere between £28 and £32 quid on one final no-risk punt?

Well no.  It’s not really blackjack, of course, it’s a spread betting game based around a one-on-one hand of blackjack: if your hand wins, the result is 100 points; push, 50 points; lose, zip.  Playing 20p per point on an even money proposition would involve a swing of about £10 on each bet.

I’ll use a hand with nice round numbers as an example of how this works: the player is dealt 15 and the dealer shows a six and the market for this hand is 40-45.  Bet higher than 45 to back the player’s hand, or lower than 40 to back the dealer’s hand.

Because it’s impossible to push when you stand on 15, there are only two possible results after the hand plays out: zero or 100.  If you buy this market (backing the player and betting on a dealer bust) you’ll win £55 or lose £45 for a £1 stake – effectively taking odds of 11-9 on the bust.  Whereas if you sell (backing the dealer and betting that he’ll make a hand 17-21) you’ll lose £60 or win £40, therefore laying a much fatter 3-2 against the bust.

You can defy basic strategy and take another card for the player’s hand if you like because busting is irrelevant - it just deals again without any money changing hands.  Or if the hand improves, the market will change before you put any money down.

You still get to bet after you hit up to 21 because you could still push for a result of 50 points (the market is 94-99 against any dealer card that isn’t a ten or ace – a choice of laying a hefty 99-1 vs taking a very lean 15-1), and you’re also still able to hit past 21.  It took some doing, but eventually I managed to hit up to my first (and probably last) ever thirty-one!

The five point spread on a market that only runs 0-100 is pretty significant.  To cover both sides of the bet at £1 per point you’d need to bet £105 for a return of £95 regardless of the result.  I make that a 4.76% house edge per bet!

Although not unusually high for some casino games, that must be the highest edge you’ll ever see for something pretending to be blackjack.  Even an eight-deck game paying 6-5 for a blackjack and with every possible unfavourable rule you can think of is better than this.  See for yourself here, the very worst set of common rules weighs in at 2.48%.

The best strategy I could think of to play this bonus was to only play bets with a small downside to qualify and then hope I had enough left for a coinflip bet at the end.  It didn’t get that far, however.

I bet lower than 92 for 20p per point (maximum loss £1.60) with the player making 21 against the dealer’s ten.  The dealer had to pull an ace here to score zero (win £18.40) or hit up to 21 to push (win £8.40). 

It wasn’t an easy promo to get maximum value out of, and eight free quid is eight free quid, so I called it day there.  Winner winner.

Gets cold this time of year

I’ll keep my mouth shut in future.

Should have known really.  One little blog post about a little bit of luck and it’s doomswitch time.  Back-to-back sets followed by an eight buy-in downswing featuring any cruel and unusual beat you can care to think of.  Blogging = -EV, obv.

Pants, basically.

But if my calculations are correct, writing this should make everything better again.  I’m surely on course for a break-even stretch now at the very least…

This is how we do it

This is exactly what’s supposed to happen when you limp out of position and then call raises with medium pocket pairs.  Although of course it hardly ever does, so it was particularly sweet to catch a miracle – and get paid – twice in a row.

Button ($37.40)
SB ($21.12)
BB ($8.50)
UTG Hero ($50)
UTG+1 ($22.05)
MP ($20.25)
MP ($17.50)
CO-1 ($48.75)
CO ($50.45)

Preflop: Hero is UTG with 8 8
Hero calls 0.50, UTG+1 raises to 2, 1 fold, MP calls 2, 5 folds, Hero calls 1.50.

Flop (6.75) Q A 8
Hero checks, UTG+1 bets 5.50, 1 fold, Hero raises to 48, UTG+1 moves all-in for 14.55.

Turn (74.80) T

River (74.80) 4

Hero shows 8 8
UTG+1 shows A Q

Hero wins 74.80 with Three of a kind, Eights

Button ($20.87)
SB ($8)
BB ($50)
UTG Hero ($72.50)
UTG+1 ($20.25)
MP ($15.50)
MP ($48.75)
CO-1 ($50.45)
CO ($37.40)

Preflop: Hero is UTG with 7 7
Hero calls 0.50, 4 folds, CO raises to 2, 3 folds, Hero calls 1.50.

Flop (4.75) 9 3 7
Hero checks, CO bets 4, Hero raises to 70.50, CO moves all-in for 31.40.

Turn (110.65) 8

River (110.65) J

Hero shows 7 7
CO shows A A

Hero wins 110.65 with Three of a kind, Sevens

I promise these were back-to-back hands on the same table.  It says I was in the same position for both, which makes that sound a little fishy, but it’s totally true!  A new player sat down to my right to take the big blind for the second hand, so I really was first to act on two consecutive deals.

Seeing as I’d already unticked "auto-post blinds" and was just getting ready to finish for the night, I’m quite glad he came along to give me one more hand…

Springo Kerchingo

It’s been a few weeks since there was a nice juicy promo from Sporting Index.  In fact they tried to run one last week that I was going to play, but it got pulled due to "technical issues".  I was a bit worried they’d realised they were giving too much away, but the same deal is back this weekend: net losses refunded on their new virtual game up to £50.

Weekends apparently now start on Thursday morning too.

Springo is a spread betting game based on bingo where you can bet on all sorts of wacky number things.  There’s a card with 24 numbers and balls are drawn from 1-80.  You could bet on how many numbers on your card are matched in 55 balls drawn (the spread is 17.4 to 17.8), or how many balls are spat out until your first hit (2.9 to 3.2).

You can also gamble on whether the numbers you match on your card form a particular patterns, like a plus sign, bullseye or heart.

Or for the truly degenerate, you can play one of the markets where numbers are multiplied together to get that oh-so important volatility.  The spread for "First hit x Last hit" is 1385-1405 – bet £1 per point and you could win £3845 or lose £1385.

So here’s how I played it.  There’s no even money bet in this game, or even anything that’s equivalent to fixed odds.  So I took the least volatile market and the smallest stake possible: I played "Draw to a hit" ten times, buying at 3.2 for the minimum stake of 91 pence per point.

That bet meant the worst downside was £2 each game, with a maximum theoretical win of £43.50.  The maximum likely win is much, much lower, as you’d have to draw 55 balls without hitting a single one on your card and that doesn’t leave much room for error.  That’s every single number you don’t have except one.  It’s so unlikely, in fact, that I can’t even be bothered to start working the odds.  Astronomical.  But there’s still the chance of a decent win for a controlled stake if things go the right way.

The first two games I played I matched the very first ball.  That £4 maximum loss was not a good start, but playing this strategy it all comes down to the last game anyway: just try to lose as little as possible until you’ve qualified for the refund and then lump whatever you have left on one bet.  Or, if you win during the qualifying period, you can just take that money and leave.

After 10 spins I was actually up by one unit: a massive 91p profit.  But I decided to let it ride.

Buying for a pretty random £23.14 per point meant the maximum downside was £50.91 – perfect.  The result was a good one too… five balls before a hit!  A 1.8 unit win, or £41.65 in real money.  Kerching!


From dusk till nearly midnight

May I be among the first to openly show my support for, and in fact to encourage, Dusk Till Dawn bringing in house-banked casinos games.  Because at 11:30pm on Sunday night, just after my pocket kings ran into pocket queens without me making a straight, I couldn’t be bothered to hang around waiting for spot in a side game to open up, so I just left.

I really don’t want to see this club fall victim to its own pretensiousness.  I already mentioned the state-of-the-art bathroom and thug-ass bouncers, didn’t I?  Good job I had the right shoes on, or my feet weren’t getting under any of their tables.  My word they think they’re great.

Indeed, it is all very fancy.  I was particularly impressed with the variety of colours of the poker tables.  Particularly the hot pink cloth.  Sadly I only got to play on a blue table, and that alone is probably enough to get me back for a second visit.  The bathroom was just as pictured, with the exception of a few puddles.  Some people just don’t respect a designer piss pot.

I certainly don’t want to see the incredible hard work it’s taken to get the venue finally open, in the face of extreme pressure from the major casino chains, go down the drain.  It should be of some satisfaction to the owners that word started to spread that Gala’s tournament only had 34 runners.  The resident know-it-all at my table – from whom I learned that iPhones do not have a screensaver and constantly display what you’re listening to in full screen; he was rocking out to Gold: The Best of Spandau Ballet – said there’s usually 80 or 90 in the Sunday game.

Dusk Till Dawn’s entire reason for existing is to be a poker venue that is not a casino, depsite requiring a full casino license to operate.  It’s been a conscious decision to snub the more profitable games such as blackjack and roulette and remain purely poker.

There wasn’t even a single fruit machine machine in sight, or even one of those equally-rigged but extremely popular "skill bingo" games where you slap "accept" or "reject" as quickly as you can to match balls to your card as they are drawn at a speed just just slow enough to stop you from winning with a perfect game, unless it’s time to satisfy the minimum payout criteria.

Before DTD opened I often said, only half-jokingly, that it would surely only be a matter of time before house-banked casino games start creeping in "by popular demand".  It’s not that I’m desparate to play blackjack or roulette in between hands – in fact my vote would be for video poker, although a poker-based table game like Let It Ride or Carribean Stud would also be a good fit – but I really can’t see how it would do more harm than good.

So I’m more than a little worried that the exclusivity they have striven to achieve, the very thing which sets them apart from any other casino, could also be an obstacle – and not just in terms of developing new players and generating enough revenue to keep the place afloat once the novelty wears off.  It’s just great poker.  I do mean great poker, but it is just poker.

The tournament on Sunday was a superb structure.  5000 starting chips, a 30 minute clock and every possible blind level you can think of (in fact, they slipped in 150/300 with no ante in addition to the levels listed on the web site).  I figure this structure has a half-life of about 3 hours, and when I busted after nearly 4 hours, there were about 40 players left from 90 who started, and (somehow, in an invitation-only tournament) one alternate.  The blinds were 200/400 with a 25 ante and the average stack was about 11k – about 30 big blinds - so it’s not even close to becoming a pushfest at that point. 

If my estimates are right, there’d be two tables remaining sometime after 1am, with the final table kicking off between 3am and 4am and average stacks of about 20 big blinds.  A little short, but it’s far from over as dawn approaches.  If you get this far and don’t have to go to work the next day, you’ll have a huge edge in any deal-making – just stall until you get the price you want!

So what is there to do when you get knocked out?  When I went to check, there were two sit-and-go lists, both for twenty quid and with a choice between normal (10 minute blinds) and turbo (6 minute blinds).  It’s awesome that they’d make such a distinction between getting three hands per level versus as many as five.  Quite the opposite of the main tournament, and remembering how much I hated the $60 SNGs at the MGM Grand (which had a massive 15 minute clock, and automatic shufflers) I decided this wasn’t for me.  Where’s the dice table?

I could have got into a £5/£5 No Limit Hold’em game, but I’m not ashamed to say that’s a little on the large side for my cojones.  There was also "4/5/6 Card Omaha" on the menu at the same limits.  Seems like a gamblin’ game to me

The smallest game was £1/£2 NL.  Hell yeah I’d be buying in short, but you know it makes sense.  The rake is high (5% rake is attractive, but a £10 cap much less so) and I expected the competition to be tough.  But there was a list, and I just couldn’t figure out what I would do in the meantime.  Who knew how long it would be to get a seat, or start a new table?  The tournament was busting players slowly and there’s no and I didn’t think many people who were already in a game would be calling it a day just yet.  What I really needed was a way to spit off a few quid on a different type of card game.

Call me impatient - I know I am.  But I also couldn’t help wondering what would have happened if I hadn’t come alone.  The venue is built for players, not spectators, so if you’re hanging around for a companion who is doing a little better than yourself don’t even think about being a railbird.  The dramatic ampitheatre-style layout actually means there isn’t actually a rail where you can stand and watch the action.  In fact the tables are a little too close together, with seats 4 through 7 on adjacent tables both getting bumped when someone walks between them.

It’s a bit easier to get a view of the ground-floor final table (they were still playing from Saturday night when I arrived) but you could go broke after a couple of hours and, if you’re not interested in side games, have nothing to do but admire the bathroom for another six before there’s anything to be cheering for.

I guess I’m lucky then to be content being a poker loner, and to have a partner who even encourages me to piss off on my own to play cards now and again.  At least, I think that’s a good thing…

Car park flasher

I only managed to get this crappy photo before I decided that suspiciously hanging around the Dusk Till Dawn car park with a camera – which had already alerted three bored bouncers to my activity, when I’m sure I’d specifically told it not not to flash – was probably a bad idea.

In case you can’t actually see anything, it’s a Chrystler MPV, registration: K10 DTD.

So whose car is this?  Simon "king-ten" Trumper doesn’t quite have the right ring to it, does it?

Live Updates: Dusk Till Dawn Opening Weekend

After I’ve enjoted the champagne and canapes at the last of the Dusk Till Dawn opening weekend parties this evening, I’ll be playing a little cards.