April 2008
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Ooooh hokey pokey cokey

Apparently Neteller think I’m a VIP.  Not really sure how that happened, although I did notice that I now have more than a million Netpoints.  They’re probably worth about a buck fifty.

All you can do with Neteller’s loyalty points is use them to enter a prize draw that typically has thousands of entries, and although I’ve no reason to doubt the integrity of the draw this just seems like it would be pouring my points down the drain.  I’d rather have the impressive seven-figure balance, thanks.  Maybe they’ll even let me buy a t-shirt with them one day too.

But this VIP promotion which I had in my email is very, very juicy:

It’s taken a while to get my head around what I actually have to do to get some free money here.  I wrote to ask them to explain exactly how the calculations had been done, because whichever way I looked at my statement I couldn’t see how on earth they had worked out such a high six-weekly average.  My total transactions since the start of the year are only slightly more than that!

They replied:

The six week average was calculated by taking the average of your weekly transactions between January 1 2008 and March 31 2008. Only weeks that you had at least one accepted transfer to a merchant were used in calculating your average. The weekly average was then multiplied by six to give a total average for six weeks (because the offer period is six weeks long we had to calculate your original average over the same time period).

The VIP bonus offer is based on your total transfers to merchants between April 20 2008 and May 31 2008,only transfers to merchants will be included in calculating your bonus (only funds that you send to merchants).

So it sounds like they’ve inflated the six-weekly average by ignoring weeks where I had no activity.  It doesn’t really matter though.  They’ve said that this offer is based on precisely my next six weeks of activity – no further calculations required – and because they’ve told me what my target amount is, I can make sure I achieve – and surpass – it.

Basically, Neteller is going to pay back a percentage of their fees to users who exceed the target level of transactions.  Using Neteller to transfer money in and out of gaming sites costs the player nothing – instead Neteller charges transactions fees to the merchants.

They charge 3.9% on deposits (the same that you pay as a user for a person-to-person transfer) and 2.0% on withdrawals.  Getting back 1.5% of your total deposits amounts to nearly 25% "fee-back", however because you never actually pay those fees yourself, it’s just free money.

It’s Neteller that’s the real winner of course – they just want to grab as much in transaction fees as possible – but it’s a no-lose proposition for the player.  It’ll be the casinos and poker rooms that get hit who pay for it.

Just think about the numbers.  I’ve started off abusing this promotion with a $1,000 deposit into UltimateBet, who were offering a 20% (max $200) deposit bonus today.  I already had more than $500 in bonus dollars sitting in my account that I’ve never had the inclination to play for.  Apart from a few satellites and the odd game of roshambo, I never play there.  Hopefully, depositing in response to an email promotion should make my deposit look a little less out-of-character than it really is.

This deposit cost UB $39, and I intend to cash it out as soon as possible which will cost them another $20.  This is one of the fussier sites in terms of getting your money back because you have to be seen to play some poker before a withdrawal is authorised.  Still, there’s no way I’m going to generate $59 in rake before getting my money back.

Clearly, the optimal strategy is to cycle as much money as you can get your hands on as often as possible.  I don’t think it’s worth adding money to my Neteller bankroll just for this – you have to pay fees to deposit and then again to withdraw that will reduce the value of the promotion considerably – but certainly for the next six weeks my entire bankroll is going to be in play.  In, out, in, out, play a few hands, do the hokey pokey cokey and turn it around.

That’s what it’s all about – easy, risk free money.

I used to cycle funds like this at Party Poker all the time.  In the good old days, you could earn 1000 bonus PartyPoints just for making a deposit of $500 and not withdrawing it for a week.  This was way out of proportion to the number of points you’d earn from actually playing as a casual player (if I remember right, 20 raked hands earned 5 points) so this is the only reason I have so much Party gear.  At 2000 points for a polo shirt, you could order one for free after every two deposits you made – without playing a single hand of poker!

I’ve also been looking for a way to cycle money on a credit card that awards frequent flyer miles, worth about 3p per £1 spent.  The dream is to use up my entire credit limit every month, then settle the card immediately, rinse and repeat.  Unfortunately, unless it’s genuine spending this is pretty difficult.  I’ve looked into laundering through online gambling sites but it doesn’t work – you have to pay a cash advance fee on the deposits which costs more than the benefits you get from spending on the card.

No such problem with Neteller though, it’s just money transfers and it costs me nothing.  As long as it’s a casino or poker site that accepts payment directly in US Dollars, and I’m confident that I’ll get my money back pretty quickly then it’s fair game.  Even the Cryptologic cashiers that charge $1 for a withdrawal are profitable plays!

After I meet the $2,530 target, which won’t take long, every $1,000 I can shift is going to earn me $15.  Doesn’t sound like much, but don’t underestimate how often I’ll be trying this – I’ve got six weeks after all!

8th donut from the sun

I thought it would be virtually impossible to reach a prize-worthy position in any of the new PokerStars Battle of the Planets sit-and-go leaderboards playing only single table tournaments, but obviously I just forgot how great I am.

Seriously though, look at this unbelievable run of results I needed to even get up to 8th place: 7 x 1st, 5 x 2nd and 3 x 3rd.

That’s 15 in-the-money finishes out of 20 tournaments.  Call it a game of skill if you like, but that kind of form takes more than a little luck.

You can see from my profit graph that I’ve never had a streak quite like it before.  Isn’t it pretty?

I know there’s bound to be an almighty downswing waiting around the corner, but I can brag while it’s going well can’t I?

Each Battle of the Planets league ends on Saturday night and resets on Sunday morning so there’s still two full days of play left and my position certainly isn’t safe.  504 points was enough for both 7th and 8th place last week, but right now 8th place is the best I can possibly get with that score.

If I manage to stay in to the top ten, I’ll win some cash (it’s $80 for 8th) and a ticket to the monthly $50,000 freeroll.  It’s a triple shootout format (729 players max) but with eight different leagues, two "orbits" in each and ten players winning a ticket each week, in a four-week month that’s 640 tickets given away for the tournament.  Some players will win two tickets and some winners won’t turn up so the value of the freeroll ticket must be at least $100.

If I don’t hang on to the giddy heights of top ten stardom, there’s still some prize money for finishing in the top 30.  I should have a pretty good shot at that at least.

I realised – completely by accident when I happened to load the right number of tournament summaries into Poker Tracker at the right time – that I’d recently reached $10,000 spent on these turbo SNG entries.  I only mention it because that same money (if I actually had it all in the same place at the same time) would get me one World Series of Poker Main Event entry.

Doing things this way involves a little less variance, though.  Sure, I’m not going to win ten million but I’m also not going to lose ten grand all to one suckout.  It’d take 625 different suckouts.

Here’s the magic stats:

I still can’t believe that this is close to being a reliable sample size.  My last eight results alone (1st, 1st, 2nd, 4th, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 1st) pushed the overall ROI up from the 16.6% shown here to 18.4%.  Maybe when I’ve played a few thousand I’ll have a little more confidence in the numbers.

EDIT: 5 hours to go and I’m 10th.  Gonna be close.

EDIT: Sodding eleventh.  A big fuck you to "$tr8t Hu$tla" who not only has a shit screen name, he also waited until the very last minute to score 521 points.  I hope I get the chance to bust you soon!

Not the eight o’clock tournament

As the Gutshot poker club no longer exists, while I was staying in London for work earlier in the week I headed down to the Powerhouse Sporting Club to enjoy their coffee bar and see if I could get a game of Jenga or Connect 4.

As it happened, there was a poker game about to start but of course it was definitely not for money. I did not pay £50 to enter, and there was no additional £5 bounty.

There was also definitely not any pressure for players to leave a voluntary donation.  I did not buy in with three £20s, so obviously they did not not offer me any change.

53 players turned up to enjoy only the thrill of the competition and to battle it out for no more than bragging rights.  It’s a game of skill… yada yada yada.

We started with 3500 chips and I picked up pocket aces on the second hand.  Blinds were 25/50 and an early position player raised to 225.  His neighbour called and I was next, making it 800 to go.

The player to my left called in a flash and it got folded round to the early raiser.

"How much to me?", he said.  "Five… what…. six…? fift…?  seventy five?".  He figured it out eventually and made the call, but not before proving what I’d always suspected: a raise to a "normal" amount plus one small chip has nothing to do with any strategy, it’s just so you get to see two different pretty colours tumbling through the air when you make your bet.  Wheeee.

I expected to see this player make a three-chip flop bet and show us all that he could count to 625, but in fact he checked, as did I and the third player.  The flop was a king and a ten and a seven, all different suits and I didn’t want to get too excited with one pair so early on.  In truth, I wasn’t really ready to deal with a tough decision yet.

The turn brought another ten – now I had two pair, for what that’s worth – and the first player bet 250.  With all that pre-flop action, the pot stood at 2475 so it may as well have been a check.  I raised to 800, again a tiny bet in relation to the pot, but I hoped it might buy me a little information – or a free showdown – while still keeping the pot quite small.  This line is either genius or ultra-weak, I’ll let you decide.

I didn’t have a great handle on the situation, but I figured that if a player who had only called my re-raise out of position pre-flop now decided to 3-bet on a king-high board, pocket aces were almost certainly not good and I would be able to fold and still have more than half a starting stack to play with.

However, if the third player decided to stick around (he’d already called two raises cold pre-flop, why not call a bet and a raise again now?) I was going to be completely stumped.  I was very glad indeed when he folded.

In for two fiddy, in for eight hundy, the other guy called and we went to the river heads up.  I don’t remember what card it was.  I didn’t look until he’d checked, and I already knew I was checking behind anyway unless it was another ace.  I flipped up the aces and he slid his hand into the muck.

"I had pocket nines", he said.  And now, the punchline: "I put you on ace-queen".

That was as interesting as it got though, I hardly saw another hand worth playing before I ended up flipping a little pair against two big cards and losing.

I took a nice long walk back to my hotel, thinking about what I could have not won.


A week ago, Poker Stars launched their "Battle of the Planets" leaderboard week for sit-and-go tournaments. You get points whenever you finish in the money, then your best blocks of 20 results (the "low orbit") or 100 results (the "high orbit") determine your league position.

As I happened to be playing quite a few SNGs at the moment anyway, it’s looked to be a nice free shot at some extra money.

My first set of results is now in: not even close.

The likely difficulty for single table sit-and-go players like myself is that although the leagues are divided by entry fee you also have to compete against players in the 18-man and 27-man tournaments, and they receive nearly twice as many points for a first place finish as you do for winning a 9-man SNG.

Of course, whatever you play it would take a pretty insane run of luck to win one of these things, but five or six first places in 3-table tournaments from a block of 20 seems much more achievable than ten or eleven single table victories in the same period – that would be first place at least every other game – to get the same number of points.

ryan422323, this week’s winner in the "Earth – low orbit" (blocks of 20 for $10-$19 tournaments – the level I’m playing at), looks like a losing player who suddenly got lucky at the right time. It happens.

As expected, Sharkscope reveals his most recent results are from a mixture of 18-, 27- and 45-man sit and go tournaments (although the 45-man results don’t count for this leaderboard – that’s apparently enough players to be considered a real tournament).

Second place finisher jellycz has had a rather better tournament career, with Sharkscope showing a long term return on investment of 19% across his PokerStars tournaments.

Still, he would have had to do much better than that over the block of 20 that counted towards his leaderboard position.

In fact we can work out just what kind of return is needed to win the Battle of the Planets from the final points totals.

Regardless of the buy-in, the points you receive are based on the prize distribution rather than the actual dollar amounts won. The number of points is the same as the prize money would be for a $10 buy-in. For example, first place in a 9-man SNG gets 45 points – although you actually win $67.50 for a $15+1 stake or $112.50 for a $25+2, the prize is always 4.5x your stake. First place in a 27-man SNG wins 8x the stake, so you receive 80 points.

So, with 637 points the winner would have received $637 in real money if he had played 20 sit-and-go tournaments that cost $10 each. That’s an amazing 219% ROI! Second place with 552 points is still-insane 176% ROI.

My hottest block landed me 369 points, with 11 in-the-money finishes out of 20 (5 x 1st, 4 x 2nd, 2 x 3rd). That’s a fiendishly good 85% ROI, and I finished 256th.

Joseph and the amazing technicolour check-raise

The Rt Hon Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, spotted this evening on BBC television wearing a Party Poker shirt.

OK, it’s actually a Leyton Orient football strip so it probably doesn’t count.  But I did get a bit excited for a moment and think that maybe he’d bought it using his PartyPoints.

What a difference some play makes

Harrah’s love me now, it’s official.

So I moaned a bit before about not having any good offers since I got Diamond, and they said it was because I hadn’t actually played on any of the shitty games they had in Las Vegas.

Fine, I thought, let’s give them some action and see what happens.

Claire and I spent not much more than an hour pumping money through the best video poker games we could find at Harrah’s Las Vegas.  Tucked away in a bank of multi-line games there was one multi-line machine with 5c 10-play 9/5 Jacks or Better (98.5%) and the next best was 7/5 Bonus Poker (98.0%) at 25c.  Definitely not great, but the best of a bad bunch.

Between us, we racked up 355 base reward credits on my card which means we must have played $3550 in total.  If you reckon on a 2% house edge on those games, the overall expected loss is $71.  In fact we won a bit on the day because Claire of course hit about 25 royal flushes.

That expected loss number is not quite as bad as it sounds.  We also got a combined 606 bonus reward credits (how these are calculated at any given time is an official secret) taking the total for the day to 961, worth a whopping $9.61 in instant food comp almost anywhere at any of Harrah’s casinos.

Except at Mon Ami Gabi.  I found this out the hard way.  You can’t swipe your card there because it’s not operated by the casino, although I asked at the players club about this later and apparently you can get a comp slip before you go to dinner if you care to guess roughly how much it’s going to be.  However, our fake French waiter (who actually sounded Italian) didn’t think to even tell us this, he just shook his head at my Total Rewards card and we had to pay using real money.

I’d be annoyed about this if it didn’t mean I still had enough comp on the card to have to go back there again in the summer and do it right.  It was a fantastic steak with a fantastic view.  I’m kicking myself for only taking a picture of the latter.

Anyway, it seems that $3550 of action in Las Vegas was enough to get me on the radar for room offers worth way more than $71.

Finally, the Imperial Palace is free!  As well as a "Deluxe Room", sometimes their web site gives me the option to book a "Luv Tub" room (putting a Roman bath in the rooms in an Asian-themed hotel is obvious, no) completely free of charge, and for up to five nights!

That’s pretty cool.  The reservations site says "sold out" for every date I’ve tried if I’m not logged in so I don’t know what they usually go for (they might even be restricted to players club bookings) but on the dates I can’t get a comp the Luv Tub rates are about $60 more than a Deluxe room.

We don’t need any hotel accomodation for the summer, but I might just book it anyway and take the little bottles of shampoo.  Or if anyone out there is looking for a good deal and the dates are right, buy me a drink and I’ll think about checking you in 😉

There’s also quite a few comps showing for me at Bally’s, Flamingo and Harrah’s and the odd night elsewhere, as well as reduced rates for all the other hotels.

The best bargain I found has to be four nights at the Rio at Christmas (the flights are already booked, need you ask) totally free.  In fact, it was only $50 to add a 5th night so I splashed out and went for that too.  If enough offers come along later to cover the rest of the trip, I expect I can always cancel that night anyway!

The best part is because every room in the Rio is a suite, I can finally boast about getting comped a suite in Vegas!

Don’t send me back t’dark place

This just in:

I used a few coupons at Circus Circus last month – a couple of table game match plays, $10 free slot play and a "get $15 in chips for $10" offer.  All this combined with a free monster hot dog at Slots-a-Fun almost makes a trip down there worthwhile.  Almost.

Circus Circus has a lot of haters, and after going back for the first time in a good few years I have to agree it absolutely deserves it.  Something about the place just started to drain my life force the moment I walked through the door.

And that was well before I had to negotiate any over-excited families of nine, kids eating candyfloss, adults chewing toothpicks, on their way to the RV park.  I can’t explain exactly what the "vibe" was, but it definitely wasn’t like you get at them regular casinos.

Maybe it was the promotional table game chips – you know it’s a cheap-ass casino when they only have them in $1s.  This deal was meant to come with a pack of win cards, but they’d run out (long ago, I imagine, judging by the 30-or-so years of grime on the chips themselves).

Or perhaps the blackjack table I sat at had something to do with it.  It took the combined brain power of a dealer and a pit boss (and what was left of their life force) about ten minutes to figure out whether a coupon from their own "fun" book which said "good for any $1 side bet" could be used at their game.

The table had a side bet that cost $1.  So, yes.  It really wasn’t worth holding the game up for.

Then one player asked the dealer, "do I hit that?" when he had a 16 and the dealer showed a ten.  "Oh that’s a tough one, it’s really up to you".  Great, it was well worth asking.  Do you not know, or have you been told to help the player make mistakes?

I’m guessing she wasn’t aware of all the hard work that has been trying to do for dealerkind.  "Your dealer will help you out because they like getting money" is the pretty much the message of that web site.  In fact, Circus Circus dealers get the worst tips on the Strip, and it’s not close.

Anyway, even with this $10 free slot play still to claim, I’m still not sure I’ll be back in a hurry.

Walk this way

I don’t think there could have been a better time to decide to call it a night – and a trip – than after being dealt back-to-back pocket aces. I didn’t make a fortune on them, but at least they held up.

The first time, I raised to $15 pre-flop after a couple of limpers and there was one caller who gave it up when I fired on a low, paired flop. Second time I got it all in against pocket kings, but he was short stacked, only sitting on about $50 at the start of the hand.

Even so, it was a three figure profit on the session and – as had been my M.O. that evening – I decided to quit with that profit as soon as the blinds came round again.  I’d been there an hour and thought I would playing a bit later on my last night, but this was always going to be my last session of the trip and I’d already realised the table wasn’t that good. In fact, the few times I’ve played at the MGM Grand before it’s never really been a great game.

I’d begun the evening at Excalibur, winning about $100 in an hour and moving on to Luxor. There, it took more like 2.5 hours before I hit a monster hand: nines full of threes. Yes, I had pocket nines, I can’t believe you would even ask.

I flopped top set, bet the flop and three of us saw the turn as it completed my boat. I checked and we saw a free river card which happily completed another player’s straight and he thought it was good enough to go broke on. I’m sure I would have done too, but I was the one running good this time.

One of the reasons I like to take in a number of different poker rooms in one night is that I just love soaking up the atmosphere around Vegas.  Strolling through casinos and between casinos, you get a chance to be around all the other action while you take a break from your own.

Starting at Excalibur I had options.  You can walk right through to Luxor, and then through again to Mandalay Bay without even stepping outside (and if it’s fresh air you’re looking for, staying indoors is usualy the right choice in Las Vegas).  There’s a tram between those hotels, which I was going to use to get back if I went all the way, but for the time being I decided to take the walkway.

With half a dozen travelators to get you from E to L, it’d be just like an airport if it didn’t connect a giant fairytale castle to an enormous black pyramid and just like an airport there are always people who just don’t get the concept of a moving walkway.

In Vegas people must think that the 2mph conveyor belt ride is a free attraction, so it’s only natural they would spread out to make themselves comfortable.

It’s not called a moving standway, is it?  Shift yourselves, family of five..

So glad you brought the kids to Vegas too.  Don’t get me started on that.

Except to say that despite Luxor’s attempts to de-theme and make itself "hipper", the faux-Egyptian cheesiness is still alive and well and living in the gift shop’s children’s clothing section.

I was only in there looking for socks, obviously.

I was done at Luxor about half past midnight and I wasn’t sure how late the tram would be running.  I didn’t fancy the thought of walking all the way back from Mandalay Bay to the car if I got involved in a long poker session there, but I wasn’t quite ready to go home just yet and I hadn’t brought my camera (otherwise I would have gone straight up to Mandalay Bay and taken the slow way home) so I wandered back to the MGM.

I’d parked over the road at the Tropicana.  You have to fight with taxis at their bottleneck of an entrance, but dumping your vehicle in valet parking is the quickest and most convenient way I’ve found to get down to the South end of the Strip.  You can jump out of the car and straight onto either of the escalators to the walkways across the street without even setting foot in the Trop itself!

But I did call inside after I was done with all the winning to donate a few dollars to the massage chairs before driving back to the hotel.  They were a great find – I didn’t think any casinos still had them.  Some people think them tacky, apparently.  The Tropicana either doesn’t, or doesn’t care.

I don’t know why I felt compelled to take – let alone post – this picture, but here goes anyway.

That grainy exposure from my camera phone in dim light really doesn’t do the shirt justice – it’s much worse than it looks.

“21” the movie

Here’s a rarity – I saw a movie based on a book I’d actually read.

I think the only other time this has ever happened before was with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

There’s no point trying to do an objective critique of the film because – let’s be honest – it was going to have to be a real turkey for me not to love it.  Just look at the ingredients: Vegas, gambling and maths geeks.  It’s already a winner on paper as far as I’m concerned.  Who needs exploding helicopters? 

Of course the little things bug me a bit.  Like how they walk into the Hard Rock and then they’re seen playing at Red Rock (it says so on the tables and chips, but you can’t really see it in YouTube-def) – even though those casinos are about 10 miles apart.  I guess having one word the same in the names is enough that we’re not meant to notice.

Then suddenly they’re inside Planet Hollywood in the same sequence (the interior is quite distinctive, even without the fake plastic jewels from the former Aladdin) and finally walk out of the Hard Rock into the morning sun (guitar-shaped door handles @ 1m59 in the trailer, if you’re bothered).

In one scene, the team have a discussion about whether you should split pairs of 8s and 10s, with some saying "yes, always" and others saying it’s a "sucker play" against a dealer’s ace.

This is a team apparently comprised of very clever individuals who have figured out how to make money by working the mathematics of the game to their advantage.  There’s just no room for debate on topics like this – the numbers do the talking.

Blackjack is a game played to a fixed set of rules with a finite number of possibilities (you can’t keep hitting for ever) so there can only be one right answer.  These guys would know the correct play for every situation or they wouldn’t be betting thousands of dollars of Kevin Spacey’s money on a hand.

In fact, you should always split 8s – even against an ace as long as the dealer checks for Blackjack first, otherwise you surrender if possible and hit if not.  You never split a pair of tens or face cards.  Unless you’re card counting, when a very high count can flip the strategy on its head.  Or unless you "have a feeling", of course.

Of course, we see the big player splitting tens in the movie – and winning big because the deck is rich in tens.  You see whenever the count is high, players invariably get 20 and the dealer invariably busts.  That’s just the way it works.

Perhaps including this uncertainty and – to some extent – misinformation about the game was payment in kind to the casinos where filming took place.  Or perhaps I’m a little too cynical.

Anyhow, I still enjoyed the movie and it’s always good to know I’m not as picky as some.  Several reviews have plenty to say about just how bad this movie must be because it’s not 100% true to life as every Hollywood movie obviously should be.  They’re taking it much too seriously, and they’re all wrong.

John Chang, the real Micky Rosa

MIT team member and poker pro, Andy Bloch:

Blackjack author, Don Schlesinger:

Internet legend, the Wizard of Odds:

Some dude called "Bootlegger" on Stanford Wong’s forum:;read=156592

Two pairs

Despite owning just about every pair of casino-branded or loosely Las Vegas-themed socks that are available (as well as some that you just can’t get your hands on any more, like the threadbare Orleans socks that I just can’t bring myself to throw away) I always seem to manage to find more.

This time we even managed to get his and hers.  The question is, can you tell which is which?