March 2008
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Harrington on cash cows

It’s been on the cards (groan) for a while but finally Dan Harrington’s latest books started to ship this week.

Yes, books, plural.  It’s a simultaneous release of Harrington on Cash Games volumes 1 & 2.  I mean, really, why even try to contain yourself to a single book when you can pad it out a bit by making up letters and colours for things that are mostly common sense, split it in two and charge double?

In fact there’s an increase in cover price too, each book is $34.95 – up from $29.95 for each of the three installments of Harrington on Hold’em.  I guess the cost of producing (half) a book must have gone up that much in the past three years.

The email I just got from Las Vegas Advisor trumpeted:

Dan’s back — and this time he’s talkin’ cash games. Poker’s most prolific author has released two more must-read books, these on the cash-game component of expert hold ’em poker play.

Most profilic author?  It’s his second freaking book!  OK, not many other poker authors have five different ISBNs to their name, but there’s David Sklansky, Mason Malmuth and the late David Spanier, just off the top of my head.  I had to check to be sure, but yes Mike Caro has written more than five and even Matthew Hilger has now written 3 actual, individual books with a fourth apparently on the way this year.

At least with HOH he made us wait a while for Volume 2 to give a degree of credibility to the multi-volume ruse.  He might actually have still been writing it.  In this series, first we learn how to play the early stages of a tournament, and then we think about the later stages.  It almost made sense.  Volume 3 – coming somewhat out of the blue – was just a lovely added bonus.

Now we have two volumes of HOCG coming out at the same time.  Of course there’s no obligation to invest in both books, you do have a choice, but the division between them is rather spurious.  Volume 1 teaches pre-flop and flop play, whereas Volume 2 deals with play on the turn and river.

Pardon me for asking, but why would I want a book that teaches me to play half a hand of poker?

Even if I can choose which half…

Strike it

So you wait weeks for Sporting Index to do another promotion, and then two come along at once.

It’s back to back weekends of bet refunds, this time with losses up to £30 given back so you can try out their latest "why wouldn’t it be random when nobody knows how it works anyway?" novelty game – Top, Middle or (you guessed it) Bottom.

 Would the real Michael Barrymore please stand up.

And now, hopefully, I’m not the only one with that theme music stuck in my head.

Dooo do-doo do-doo do-doo do-do-do dooo.  Do do de do.

"The principal of this game", the instructions began – pushing my pedantry meter into overdrive after just two words: it’s principle goddammit.  What’s that, you used the spell checker?  Plstryharderthx.  Shall we continue? … "is very easy".

Actually it’s not very easy.  It took me at least a dozen goes using play money to even start to understand what was going on, so I’ll try my best to explain it but can’t guarantee it’ll be great.

Picking top, middle or bottom reveals a symbol.  You advance to the next column if you pick either a single arrow or you move across two columns with a double arrow.  To get the maximum score you have to pick arrows all the way to the other side of the board and your current score is determined by the number shown at the top of that column.

If you reveal a question mark you then have to pick one of four boxes.  Three boxes contain your current score value and selecting one of these awards you that score and the game is over.  The fourth box contains a green arrow and you move to the next column and continue.

What is a Hot Spot?  Not a good spot, of course.  But in this game it’s a red cross.  Just different enough to avoid a lawsuit I expect.  If you reveal a Hot Cross (not a good cross) the game ends with zero points no matter how far you got across the board.

So far that actually sounds quite simple, but it’s complicated no end by the fact that it’s a spread betting game, and once you move across the board you are offered the opportunity to quit the game and take the new price offered, but that price is not going to be the same as your score because you haven’t actually finished the game until you get all the way across or end it with a red cross or question mark.

Very easy, yes?

Assuming that you are at least 1-in-3 to hit some kind of arrow and proceed is one thing (all the games I played did reveal at least one arrow in every column) but knowing what advancing one step is worth versus how much you’re risking to get there is a totally different matter.

To be honest, I just didn’t care enough about this game to work it out.  If it wasn’t for the £30 free bet I’d have been long gone.  I guess there must be demand for this kind of thing among spread betting degenerates for whom there just isn’t enough sport to bet on, but I don’t see the appeal.  First they have to get me to understand how the game works (in this case they didn’t do a great job) and then they have to get me to trust it, and if it’s not based on something that’s random in real life that’s usually tough.  TV game shows are random?  I think not, and nor does the chap from the video above if you check the comments on YouTube.

Anyway, after a few play money games with the minimum stake, I noticed that if I hit a double arrow the first time or two single arrows I could then take the offer for a £1.50 profit, whereas a cross was a £2.00 loss.  To avoid thinking any longer, this was good enough to start playing a few minimum bets to qualify for the refund – I needed ten bets at this level and finished up £7 down on the deal.

So with a further £23 that could be refunded it was time for one larger bet to try to find a profit.  This worked out at betting £1.15 per point, a maximum loss of £23 and a maximum win of £1160.  Of course, I wasn’t going anywhere near far enough across the board to win a grand and decided that a tenner profit or more would do.

I went "middle" and got a green arrow.  The game offered me £5.75 profit – not enough to get me back into profit overall so I would carry on, right after I took a screen grab.

See that timer in the bottom right corner?  9 seconds it says.  Well it took me a bit longer than that to paste and save the screenshot and while I was finishing up I heard a ding and some cheering from the other window.

With my back turned, apparently I had gone "middle" again.  Whether this is a random choice or just a repeat of my last selection I have no idea.  Can’t say I was pleased about it making the decision for me.  Surely if it looks like I can’t be bothered to play any more, it should hit the "take profit" button and cash me out rather than gambling it up on my behalf?  And really, 15 seconds in total to act?  Why?  What damage, exactly, am I doing to your bottom line by not gambling any faster than that?

Fortunately it was a winner, or I’d really be ranting about it.  The new offer: £17.25, which just pushed me into enough profit to make my target.  A total win of £10.25.

Good game good game? No. 


High kickin’ dandy

I’m still not worthy enough to get a single free night at Harrah’s cheapest hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, but they’ll gladly fly me out to Laughlin for free and put me up for four nights.

This offer came in an email today:

If you would like to make a trip to Harrah’s Laughlin, Nevada, please call or email me directly. Based on your Total Rewards card you qualify for two complimentary seats on any of the following flights and room. The flights listed below are direct charter flights to Harrah’s Laughlin Nevada on Allegiant Airlines.

From a guy named Ryan, whose email signature revealed him to be "Senior Executive Casino Host.  Days off: Sunday & Monday".

He goes on to list 150 different flights over the next three months departing from various cities spread out across almost every state.  If you’re from Hawaii or Alaska you’re out of luck but for mainland USA, from the major cities to the back of beyond, Harrah’s have you covered.

If there’s a song about the city, it’s definitely on the list: ChattanoogaWichita.  (Deep voice) Albuquerque.  I’d never heard of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina but it has such a great name I want to go there now.

So just one slight drawback, I have to already be in the USA to get the flight.  I knew it had to be too good to be true.  I guess there’s no harm in suggesting a long haul charter from Manchester, or even asking him to get the private jet out for us, but I can’t think that one day of intenso play is going to be quite enough yet.

Really it’s just nice to see that my Diamond status is worth something decent, even if I can’t use it.

Something beginning with “L”

I was sure I’d done a player-to-player transfer on Full Tilt before today, when I just sent a few bucks to Paul Sandells for a stake in his action in the WSOP Circuit event next month.

But I’m sure I would have remembered this screen.

I just don’t get why this is useful.  If you’re going to give me some kind of verification that I entered the right username, what’s the problem with telling me the full name of his city?

This is what other poker sites do, if they even give any verification at all.  I mean, really, anyone who is transferring real money to another player is going to make sure they have the right username and look back at what they’ve typed, not just hammer the keyboard randomly and hope it ends up in the right place.  Are they?

Is that actually this player’s avatar displayed?  How would I know unless (a) I’m sending money to someone I’ve actually played with before (which I’m not) and (b) I have your horrible cartoon monkey/gnome/dude with afro avatars switched on (which, for the sake of sanity, I don’t). 

Sometimes you won’t even be sure what city the other guy will have put on his account, but you’ll know roughly – and this was the case with Paul.  Even seeing London rather than Lisbon, Lima or Los Angeles here would give me a clue as to whether this is the right guy.  That "L" really doesn’t narrow it down much.

Jeez, if you’re worried about giving out too much personal information just show the name of the country he’s from, or a little flag picture if you want to be super cool.  You can already see any player’s country at the poker table without even siting down.

That would be much more useful than making me play bloody I Spy whenever I want to send money.

I love this stuff

Some suckouts are just brilliant.  Hopefully this is the turning point for me tonight after 8 straight out-of-the-money finishes in sit and go tournaments.  I finished 3rd – it’s a start.

It was the first steal attempt I’d made in this tournament, and it all went badly wrong.  I open-pushed ace-five from the button and got called immediately by pocket kings and then immediately afterwards by ace-queen suited.

When the cards were turned over I said out loud, "Oh great, I can’t win".  Nobody was there to listen, or to remind me I actually had a 9% chance of taking it down.

The flop brought hope in the form of a mighty gutshot draw.  "Oh, I can now – with a two", I continued for the benefit of the audience at home.  You don’t always have to call it a deuce.

And the sweetest turn card sealed the deal.  Ship it.

Luck of the Irish football

The pictures in the spam got all screwed up, but the offer is still a good one…

Been a while since I had one of these.  Thanks, Al.  Keep your head on…

Play it right and it’s a completely risk free £50 bet.  You just have to pick a bet based on a fairly even matchup, with a limited downside and as few different possible outcomes as possible.  That way you don’t need a freak result to win big on a no-risk spread bet.

The Win Index on a football game is usually a good candidate, and I’ve picked the glamour fixture Drogheda United vs Shamrock Rovers for this bet.  I don’t know anything about football these days, so an Irish game is as good as any.  With three apparently strong favourites (Man Utd, Liverpool, Chelsea) playing in the English televised games this weekend, the market on this game is a better fit for this bet than any other.

The Win Index awards 25 points fora a win, 10 for a draw and nothing for a loss.  By selling Drogheda at 15 for £5 per point, I lose exactly £50 (maximum value from this promotion) if they win the game.  A draw wins me £25 (£5 x 5 points) and if Shamrock come out on top I win £75 (£5 x 15 points).

It’s all settled after one game, even with a draw, as both winning outcomes are good returns on a £50 free bet.

I had to check to be sure, but yes – Shamrock Rovers do play in green.

EDIT: Seventy five quid, tyvm.  Shamrock Rovers won 1-0, thanks to an early goal from a dude named Murphy.

Show me boobs

I was marvelling in the summer at how a junk shop pretending to be a Las Vegas casino memorabilia store had managed to put a standard Hooters carrier bag up for sale as "vintage" gear and price it at $7.50.  But perhaps they saw something coming.

The Review Journal has reported that breast-themed Hooters Hotel and Casino is to be sold and redeveloped.  The property celebrated its 2nd birthday just last month.

There’s not a great deal I’ll miss about the place, although I had discovered that Hooters was a good place to park when the major hotels on the South end of the strip were busy and limited to guests only.

However the casino had no games that I’d bother going out of my way for and the couple of times I walked past the poker room there wasn’t even a single game going on.

I tried to get some value out of the slot club signup offer.  The cuddly owl mascot in a Hooters T-shirt was almost as tempting as a free buffet or even cash, but only after I’d signed up did I realise you had to earn slot points on three consecutive days to get him. 

Free stuffed toy, or never having to come back here again…  Turned out it really wasn’t a tough decision.

The downfall of Hooters is, presumably, because if you’re looking for the thing guys want to see more than anything in the whole wide world (see one minute video below, if you really need it explaining..) you have quite a few options in Las Vegas.

With so many strip clubs, topless shows, hot girls direct to your room and legal whorehouses just an hour away, do guys actually come to Sin City to eat chicken wings served by a girl in a tight t-shirt and orange hotpants – just like they can get back at home?

Now, where can I get a beer sandwich?

Only the good

I’ve finally heard the sad news that broke over the weekend about the death of game designer and writer Barron Vangor Toth.

I was a devotee of Barron’s weekly poker column on  He wrote mostly about fixed-limit Hold’em and somehow managed to turn his accounts of probably the least dramatic poker game there is into a compelling read. 

He died from cancer aged 34.

That’s so sick.

Cards are in the air

It’s T-21 and the traditional jumbo-playing-cards-above-the-fireplace countdown to my next Las Vegas trip has begun:

Everything is finally booked now and it’s going to be a bit of a jaunt – four hotels in 9 days!

We start off at the charred remains of Monte Carlo for a pretty good $69.95/night.  With tax the total is $152.50, but the package includes $25 in food credit, $10 in slot play and $5 to spend at Starbucks.  I’m sure it will all get used!

Effectively that makes this stay just $112.50 – a bargain for that resort, but it’s still three times as much as we’re paying for the rest of the trip.  Six of the next seven nights don’t cost a penny!

On Day 3 we drive out to the Colorado River for a complimentary night at Harrah’s Laughlin.  We could spend as much time as possible here racking up Total Rewards credits on the video poker at Harrah’s to try to extend that elusive Diamond status for another year.  Or we could play a better game at almost any other casino in town.

For days 4 and 5, we’re back in Las Vegas at Terrible’s.  It’s a better-than-free deal: they’re giving me $50 in free slot play just for showing up.  In fact, I have a feeling that Mr Terrible has a complex about guests actually showing up.  He charged a $50 deposit to my card (for my complimentary room) when I booked, and apparently I’ll get this back at check-out.

So, if I actually turn up they give me $50 to play through their machines.  And if I’m still there two days later I get my $50 deposit back.  Really, the place isn’t that bad.

From day 6 we finally stay put for a few days.  It’s four nights at the Four Queens, three of them comped and one more for just $35.  Claire arranged this all over email, no credit card required even for the paid night.  Apparently a little bit of video poker play goes a long way here still.

She did get a second offer for three more nights in April, which is just too late for this trip.  However the same mailer also has an offer another $40 slot play for free though, which it looks like she will be able to claim on the morning of April 1st, just before we fly home.  Lovely.

So all in all, we have all 9 nights booked for a total cost of about $190.  But there’s $130 coming back in food credit and slot play!  Not quite the totally free trip we were aiming for, but it’s getting closer!