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Geeks and Poker? 657

Posted by Cliff
from the do-you-play? dept.
Best ID Ever! asks: "Poker, a fascinating intersection of math, game theory, and observation of human behavior, is currently exploding in popularity due to televised high-stakes tournaments such as the World Poker Tour and Binion's 2003 World Series of Poker. Many of today's top professional players have nerdly roots such as Mathematicians, chess prodigies, or backgammon champions. A few pros, including 2000 champion Chris Ferguson, even used to play poker in the IRC poker community. This year's World Series final event, which began Saturday and lasts through the week, drew 2600 participants, more than three times the number of participants in 2003. How many Slashdot readers play poker, and what do you think of Poker's upswing?"
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Geeks and Poker?

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  • by DaLiNKz (557579) * on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @04:55PM (#9262203) Homepage Journal
    ..."drew 2600 [newsday.com]"...
    So much geek urberness in poker, there is an underlying hacker element to the event..
  • Personally... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jwthompson2 (749521) * <.moc.smargorpnialp. .ta. .semaj.> on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @04:56PM (#9262218) Homepage
    Poker, Blackjack or other such games are the only sort of gambling I would be remotely willing to participate in because it involves much more than straight chance as involved in slots, roulette or craps. Sure statistics come into play, but nothing forces the stats to hold consistently.
    • Re:Personally... (Score:5, Informative)

      by tessaiga (697968) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:15PM (#9262491)
      Poker, Blackjack or other such games are the only sort of gambling I would be remotely willing to participate in because it involves much more than straight chance as involved in slots, roulette or craps. Sure statistics come into play, but nothing forces the stats to hold consistently.
      I'm not sure what made you say that, because the only reason you would prefer blackjack or poker over the slots is purely because of the statistics -- you're guaranteed to lose because the odds are always against you at slots, while there exist strategies with winning odds at blackjack. (Poker's a bit harder to pin down mathematically, because a lot depends on how good you are at bluffing and reading bluffs, elements not present in blackjack.)

      Taking blackjack as an example, if you come up with a strategy that gives you better odds than the house, a little something called the central limit theorem [wolfram.com] guarantees that in the long run, you're going to win. What you should be concerned about instead is that your bankroll is big enough to let you play long enough for that to happen -- if you run out of money too quickly due to a run of bad luck (something math guys call the "gambler's ruin [wolfram.com]" problem), then you're screwed. Then it becomes trying to figure out what the odds are of that not happening, as a function of how much money you start out with.

      The popular Bringing Down The House [buy.com] is an easy read that actually does a good job of discussing a lot of these issues, in the guise of an entertaining story.

  • by Roland Piquepaille (780675) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @04:56PM (#9262222)
    How many Slashdot readers play poker

    All those who aren't posting anymore, because they're too skint to pay the ISP bill now...
    • All those who aren't posting anymore, because they're too skint to pay the ISP bill now...

      I know that was probably meant as a joke, but I want to be serious for a sec. I'm a fairly serious gamer.

      That's the sign of a gaming problem.

      I play a good deal. But all the money I use to play with is money that I don't need to pay for food, clothes, bills, car, etc.

      I've seen people go broke playing. Not just poker, but any game. Hell, I wouldn't doubt that a few of the 2,576 that signed up for the WSOP Main Event

  • by millahtime (710421) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @04:56PM (#9262227) Homepage Journal
    I used to play poker but, I played 1 to many times where I lost my pants literally and gave up.
  • Game of skill (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Akiba (589290) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @04:57PM (#9262239)
    Poker is often counted as "gambling" but to me it's precisely because it's not gambling but rather a game of skill that it's interesting. It's a zero sum game with some randomness so that you need to play for a little while to really see the better player emerge.
  • by decarelbitter (559973) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @04:57PM (#9262240)
    The android Data, one of the most popular characters in TNG amongst geeks, is a fanatic poker player. Coincidence? I don't think so.
    • by RobertB-DC (622190) * on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:22PM (#9262544) Homepage Journal
      Coincidence? I don't think so.

      My favorite poker-related episode was the one (one of the ones) in which the Enterprise gets caught in a temporal loop. Data, more than the others, experiences deja vu, to the extent that they realize (after several dozen iterations) that they're about to have a destructive, time-ripping encounter with a ship from the past piloted by a late 20th century sitcom star [frasieronline.co.uk].

      They eventually find a way for Data (big D) to transmit a small amount of data (little D) to his past self. The data Data sends to Data is the number "3" (IIRC), which shows up in every poker hand Data deals. He realizes that the odd coincidence corresponds to the last thing his previous self saw before being destroyed -- Riker's command pips. He follows Rikers instructions (which had been countermanded by Picard) and the crews of both ships finally emerge from (yet another) temporal distortion.

      All off the top of my head. I am such a geek.
  • by websensei (84861) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @04:57PM (#9262248) Journal
    M.I.T. geeks vs Vegas.
    True story.
    An amazing read.
    • by smcd (634) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:01PM (#9262312)
      That was Blackjack, not Poker. But yes, it was an interesting read. I wouldn't have guessed in advance how complicated the con got.
    • by UM_Maverick (16890) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:04PM (#9262366) Homepage
      True story? Sure, but written by a journalist... One of the guys from the book is a member of the same gym as I am (Sports Club LA in Boston), and told me that he doesn't remember "Kevin" (definitely not his real name) ever dating any cheerleaders, or hanging out with Patrick Ewing, or...well, you get the idea.

      Did they beat the system? Yeah. Did everything else happen? well....maybe. Does that make it any less worthy of your time? Nope, great book
    • by myc (105406) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:05PM (#9262373)
      While an interesting read (I own the book and have read it several times), it's more about the social engineering aspect of going against the casinos than the actual mathmatics and statistics aspects of card counting. For instance, the MIT team had to resort to (legal) aliases and disguises to avoid being kicked out of Vegas casinos. The trick was not card counting per se, but card counting without the house knowing about it.

      also, Bringing Down The House was about blackjack, not poker :) Poker Nation (forgot the author, sorry) is a much more interesting look into the world of competitive poker players.
    • by ahem (174666) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:23PM (#9262552) Homepage Journal
      Or, read "Positively Fifth Street" [bookreporter.com] for an excellent telling of a poker tale. Jim McManus takes us on an adventure where he uses a magazine advance on an article to buy his way into the WSOP. He comes in sixth, I beleive. The article he's writing is about the murder of Teddy Binion, late of the Binion family, owners (until recently) of the Horseshoe, where the WSOP takes place. Two engrossing stories intertwined.
    • by drfireman (101623) <<dan> <at> <kimberg.com>> on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:48PM (#9262812) Homepage
      The Mezrich book is fine if you know absolutely nothing about blackjack. Otherwise, it's a little hard to take his relentless efforts to make the people he writes about seem like geniuses. They may be geniuses, but not because they can wear clever costumes and count cards.

      For a gambling book with much more hacker appeal, try Thomas Bass's "The Eudaemonic Pie." For a poker book with geek appeal, try Yardley's "Education of a Poker Player" (the geek appeal is more in the backstory, which involves codebreaking).
  • Video Poker (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RobertB-DC (622190) * on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @04:57PM (#9262250) Homepage Journal
    I've never understoood the appeal of standing in front of a video poker terminal*, feeding in cash and pushing the little buttons, when I know that the odds are against me. But I have spent many unproductive hours with handheld poker games, and was inspired to come up with a system to lose less often. At the risk of slashdotting my new host, here's my geeky take on How to Lose Less at Video Poker [littlecutie.net].

    It got mixed reviews a year or so ago when the topic came up in a previous Slashdot story, but it still seems to hold up for me -- at least, when there's no real money involved. The main criticism, IIRC, was that my method is very conservative, reducing the chances of a Big Win. Since I'm not the type to plug fifty bucks into a machine in hopes of a Big Win, I'm still happy with the method as it stands, but I'm receptive to comments.

    I was hoping to try it out on a trip to Oklahoma, but when I stopped in the so-called Indian Casino [indiancasinos.com] in Okmulgee, I found nothing but a bingo parlor (with touch-screen monitors in place of ink daubers) and a couple hundred video 8-liners [txlottery.org]. Not one real video poker machine to try my luck. I'll have to hit the truck stop in Louisiana again... last time I was there, I played two 25c hands, lost one, won 50c on the other, and cashed out.

    * Spending several hours plugging quarters into Pac-Man [klov.com], however, is another thing entirely.
    • Re:Video Poker (Score:3, Informative)

      by ptbarnett (159784)
      I've never understoood the appeal of standing in front of a video poker terminal*, feeding in cash and pushing the little buttons, when I know that the odds are against me. But I have spent many unproductive hours with handheld poker games, and was inspired to come up with a system to lose less often.

      Or, you could go to one of the many places on the 'Net that have already done so:

      http://wizardofodds.com/games/videopoker/ [wizardofodds.com]

      Find the right game with the right payouts, and the long-term return exceeds 100

    • Re:Video Poker (Score:3, Informative)

      by 3terrabyte (693824)
      The biggest surprise of this method is that you're better off to keep a partner, even though you reduce your chances of Three Of A Kind.

      Your math is flawed when you think it's better to keep a partner. When you calculated the odds of keep the 2,2,8... you added up the odds of getting three 2's, or getting 2 pair. But when you calculated the odds of keeping just the 2,2, you only calculated the odds of getting three 2's. You should have also added the odds of getting a 2nd pair.

  • I used to play (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anti Frozt (655515) <chris.buffett@RA ... minus herbivore> on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @04:57PM (#9262257)

    I just started a new position a few weeks ago. Up until recently, we would play Texas Holdem at lunch. I found it was a great opportunity to get to know my colleagues quickly and integrate myself as a memeber of the team.

    Unfortunately, it also lead to extended lunch breaks, so the poker I'm disappointed to say, has ended. But the benefits of playing still remain.

  • Heh (Score:3, Funny)

    by itwerx (165526) <itwerx@gmail.com> on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @04:58PM (#9262261) Homepage
    ...drew 2600 participants...
    Last I checked most of the folks in 2600 [2600.org] were pretty sharp! :)
  • by millahtime (710421) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @04:59PM (#9262287) Homepage Journal
    I'm sure there are a lot of /.ers who play poker. They all downloaded that free strip poker and played for hours to win.

    Or, was that just me
  • Drinking (Score:3, Funny)

    by NinjaPablo (246765) <ninjapablo@NOsPAM.smashtech.net> on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:00PM (#9262293) Homepage Journal
    I find that the quality of my poker face decreases when I lose a lot of hands in poker-for-drinks. This further leads to more drinking, which results in an even worse poker face....
  • Poker advise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kaimelar (121741) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:00PM (#9262301) Homepage
    Some wise poker advise: "If you don't know who's the sucker at the table, it's you."
    • Re:Poker advise (Score:3, Informative)

      by jmpoast (736629)
      More good advice. When choosing your seat at the table try to sit with loose betters to your right, and tight betters to your left.
    • by skifreak87 (532830) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:46PM (#9262786)
      From Dutch Boyd (an internet entrepreneur, IIRC) at last year's WSOP: "Poker is a lot like sex. Everybody thinks they're the best. But for the most part, most of them dont know what the hell they're doing"
  • Car Talk Puzzler (Score:3, Interesting)

    by j0hnfr0g (652153) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:01PM (#9262306)

    This reminds me of a certain Car Talk Puzzler [cartalk.com].
  • Poker? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Profane MuthaFucka (574406) <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:01PM (#9262314) Homepage Journal
    Poker? Hell, I don't even know her!
  • by beatleadam (102396) <flamberge@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:06PM (#9262395) Homepage Journal
    Many of today's top professional players have nerdly roots such as Mathematicians, chess prodigies, or backgammon champions.

    What I love about Poker (and why I am happy it is gaining in popularity) is simply the "reality" of it in that you have real cards, real chips and potentially even real money in your hands. I am contrasting this to the computerized or synthetic elements of online poker or poker video games.
  • by MikeHunt69 (695265) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:08PM (#9262416) Journal
    I had a boss who once told me he used to play poker semi-professionally years ago. He claimed he got to the last table at the world poker championships in the late 80's. He gave up. The reason? "Why the hell would I want to spend my entire day, every day, in a smoke filled room with a bunch of loosers?".

    Okay, at the time he was what he defined as a looser too - but he recognised this and "got out" as it were. In the end, it would turn into an 8-24hr a day job

    btw, Rounders is probably the best movie I've seen about Poker.

  • Avi Freedman (Score:3, Informative)

    by .@. (21735) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:08PM (#9262420) Homepage
    Avi Freedman, Chief Network Scientist for Akamai, just won $90,000 in the 2004 WSOP.
  • by ruebarb (114845) <[colorache] [at] [hotmail.com]> on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:10PM (#9262442)
    I've been playing poker for a number of years, and study the game online in twoplustwo.com - where I post as whiskeytown - I also play quite a bit online.

    There are some mathheads who are World Class Players...Chris Ferguson is one - a second class of character is the newbie who watches too much WPT/WSOP and thinks he should push all in with 88 - these guys sorta hurt the third class of player - the ones who play you more then the cards.

    More then one professional player has griped (unfairly) that no good player would call some of the bluffs they made, and that too many amateurs are diluting the pool in the WSOP main event. It jumped from 700 to over 2200 this year - an incredible jump -

    As of today, in the 80 of 2200 players left, 3 of them (including Chris Ferguson) are former WSOP winners, so the cream is still rising but not like it was when there were only 70 players.

    I think it'll slowly die out as a fad - esp. since most folks want to play NL these days, and those games never last long - too easy for someone to go broke in one mistake - but it's good for poker -

    but all the popularity is very good for tourney players - more money in the pool, and a lot of folks watch TV and don't realize they see a lot more bluffing on there because for one, it's a final table and two, it makes for better ratings then bet, fold action.

    Poker is a winning -EV if you're better then most of the other players at the table, and with so many fish, it's not hard to be better anymore :)

    RB
  • by bugnuts (94678) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:11PM (#9262446) Journal
    Geeks start out with the basic abilities to learn the math, and that gives them a huge advantage when learning poker over the average player. Their learning curve is shallow to understand the game. They also tend to like playing games. They will do very well in games such as blackjack, where the rules are very clear and the math works well. They will also do well in shorter-term play such as poker tournements.

    But in poker, the separation between those that can hold their own, and those that excel over the long-term, is human observation. According to poker great Doyle Brunson, poker is a human game, not a numbers game. He had little education, and probably had to struggle to learn the math (which he knows very well).

    Just like lawyers need to have legal skills in addition to a litigious client, geeks need human skills in addition to the math to succeed in the long-term.

    Blackjack + geeks: teh winz
    Poker + geeks: depends on the geek's human skills.
  • Wizard Of Odds (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:14PM (#9262476)
    This site is run by a casino math professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. It contains the odds on all the major casino games, and Java applets that teach you how to play the best odds.

    http://www.wizardofodds.com/ [wizardofodds.com]
  • by toddt (731370) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:21PM (#9262534)
    I used to play quite a bit of structured-bet poker in the California card rooms. In California, as opposed to Nevada, the card rooms are smoke free, and the competition is *usually* pretty weak. At tables up to about the 6-12 or sometimes 10-20 range, almost all deals will see a flop. A lot of people will play any pair, regardless of position, and will often play any face card. In Vegas, more people know what they're doing, and a lot of times the deal will be folded around to the blinds. So, in my opinion, California is about as accomodating a place to play as there is, and I got to a point where I could consistently win about $15/hr, over the long run. Not great, but not bad. More practice and higher table limits probably would have improved this number. The problem is that it just gets SO. INCREDIBLY. BORING. If you're playing well, you're going to be folding most of your initial hands because they're just not worth playing. There have been hours where I've sat there and folded all 35 hands that are dealt. For a while you can watch the other players and learn their styles, but when you realize that two guys at the table will play anything to the flop, including 2-7 offsuit, there's not a whole lot else you need to know except that those two people suck and you should be ready to exploit their weakness. Some poker books have stories about men who cut the pockets out of their pants, so they can masturbate at the tables. Perhaps my boredom threshold for masturbating in public is higher, or maybe I just didn't stick with poker long enough, but my decision was that that lifestyle wasn't really the way I wanted to spend my life. For $15/hr, there are a lot of other jobs that don't revolve around being bored and taking other people's rent money. (Yes, I know you shouldn't play with rent money. A lot of people do. And those are usually the players who suck, and who are losing their money to you.) Pot-limit and no-limit are completely different animals, but the risk in those games is enormous. It's trivially easy to lose your entire bankroll in one night. Todd
  • Hold'em (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 3ryon (415000) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:26PM (#9262581)
    I've been playing No Limit Hold'em for a while, here's my experience:

    The only way to win consistanty is to play rationally (ie. mathematically) against people who are not playing rationally. Not only do you have to beat your opponents but you have to do it with a large enough percentage to also beat the house's rake (a small amount taken from each hand).

    But since the house only takes a rake the odds aren't necessarily against you.

    There are basically three ways to play:

    Rationally against Rational players: results in you winning N% of hands with N being the number of people at the table. You basically trade pots back and forth. If you play long enough the rake eventually takes all of everyone's money.

    Irrationally against Rational players: results in quickly loosing your money. You might get lucky in the short run, but you can't continue playing this way for long. Do it occassionally so that people might think you'll make irrational bets and then might call you when you have the nuts.

    Rationally against Irrational players: You'll evetually gather all the money not lost to the rake. The only way to make money in the long term. However, you may still go on looong losing streaks.

    I still play Hold`em (mostly rationally), but you eventually get to the point where you've seen all the hands. Now it's mostly a grind.
    • Re:Hold'em (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tpengster (566422) <slash@ t p e ngster.com> on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @08:31PM (#9264008)

      The only way to win consistanty is to play rationally (ie. mathematically) against people who are not playing rationally.

      This is misleading. In order to beat people who are playing "irrationally", you must also play "irrationally". Let me explain what I mean by this.

      There is no "Optimal strategy" in poker. There is a good strategy for a specific situation against specific players, but there is no single strategy that can always be applied.

      If you always play "rationally (mathematically)", then that means you are not varying your game; then your opponents can read you like an open book. Then they can bluff at you when you check, because "rationally", you check when you have nothing. So this isn't a good way to do it.

      When players start out, they usually play "rationally", i.e. they are always thinking about math and odds. The truth is that you have to vary your plays, sometimes doing "irrational" things like betting when you don't have a hand or have an incomplete hand. The reason i call this irrational is that, a rational opponent could turn around and exploit your sub-optimal play. However, you play sub-optimally precisely because you know your opponent is weak and will not exploit your play.

      I'll use an analogy to explain this phenomenon. In a game of paper-rock-scissors, the mathematically optimal (rational) strategy is to play randomly. And your analysis of random vs random is correct.. no one wins. However, if your opponent plays "irrationally" (exhibits patterns), then you must also play "sub-optimally" to exploit these patterns. In doing so you will exhibit patterns of your own. If your opponent is playing 66% rocks, you would do well to play lots of papers. Now, if your opponent is rational, he would just start playing scissor instead. But precisely because he continues to play suboptimally (66% rocks), you continue playing papers. Poker is a more complex game, which is why people actually make mistakes of this magnitude at poker and why people don't play paper-rock-scissors for money.

      The reason you can win at poker is that players are always betting the value of the cards in their hand. To win at poker, you have to take into account more than your cards and the odds of the next card hitting; you have to bet your position at the table, and you have to bet based on the other player's cards. Bad players will tell you what they have with the size of their bets. Now that you have more information than they do, you can eat them alive.

  • by _newwave_ (265061) <slashdot@paul3.1415926walker.tv minus pi> on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:39PM (#9262729)
    For you poker players that make an occasional Vegas trip, you may be interested in a special that Bellagio offers. If you spend at least 6 hours in the poker room ( monitored by a stamped card given to you by the poker room host ), you can get a room for $200/night on the weekends and $129/night on the weekdays. This may not seem like much of a special, but considering the fact that the typical rate at Bellagio reaches $400-$500 on the weekends, I certainly consider it a great deal...especially when splitting it with a friend. That's where I'll be this weekend!
  • by toddt (731370) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:45PM (#9262784)
    First try at this ignored paragraph breaks. Sorry!
    ---
    I used to play quite a bit of structured-bet poker in the California card rooms. In California, as opposed to Nevada, the card rooms are smoke free, and the competition is *usually* pretty weak.

    At tables up to about the 6-12 or sometimes 10-20 range, almost all deals will see a flop. A lot of people will play any pair, regardless of position, and will often play any face card. In Vegas, more people know what they're doing, and a lot of times the deal will be folded around to the blinds.

    So, in my opinion, California is about as accomodating a place to play as there is, and I got to a point where I could consistently win about $15/hr, over the long run. Not great, but not bad. More practice and higher table limits probably would have improved this number.

    The problem is that it just gets SO. INCREDIBLY. BORING. If you're playing well, you're going to be folding most of your initial hands because they're just not worth playing. There have been hours where I've sat there and folded all 35 hands that are dealt. For a while you can watch the other players and learn their styles, but when you realize that two guys at the table will play anything to the flop, including 2-7 offsuit, there's not a whole lot else you need to know except that those two people suck and you should be ready to exploit their weakness.

    Some poker books have stories about men who cut the pockets out of their pants, so they can masturbate at the tables. Perhaps my boredom threshold for masturbating in public is higher, or maybe I just didn't stick with poker long enough, but my decision was that that lifestyle wasn't really the way I wanted to spend my life.

    For $15/hr, there are a lot of other jobs that don't revolve around being bored and taking other people's rent money. (Yes, I know you shouldn't play with rent money. A lot of people do. And those are usually the players who suck, and who are losing their money to you.)

    Pot-limit and no-limit are completely different animals, but the risk in those games is enormous. It's trivially easy to lose your entire bankroll in one night.

    Todd
  • Poki Poker (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Regulus (184356) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:50PM (#9262827) Homepage
    This is one of those exceedingly rare chances where I can actualy post something on /. while at work and consider it work related :-) I'm the lead programmer for a Poker training package called Poki's Poker Academy [poki-poker.com]. Poki started as an Artificial Intelligence research project at the University of Alberta, where I did my MSc. We've recently commercialized the AI into the above product. The UofA research page [ualberta.ca] is an excellent resource for geeks interested in poker. Our publications look at the math and algorithmics behind writing sophisticated poker AI. Poker is an incredibly geek friendly game. There is a lot of reward in being able to play analytically. The 'reading' of people is a much smaller part of the game than most folks think -- at the highest levels, the best players simply don't have any easy tells, so there is no point looking for any.
  • by drfireman (101623) <<dan> <at> <kimberg.com>> on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @05:58PM (#9262895) Homepage
    For a great convergence of geeks and poker, try the International Conference on Cognitive Modeling [pitt.edu] this summer, at which there will be a "pokerbot" competition. It's just what it sounds like, but if you'd like an overview (written for poker players), try my article from Card Player Magazine [cardplayer.com].
  • by limekiller4 (451497) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @06:11PM (#9263025) Homepage
    I just began playing poker about 2-3 weeks ago. I don't think I'll be able to add a heck of a lot of insight into the game as I'm just now understanding it, but here are some useful resources:

    http://www.pokerlistings.com/poker-top-lists
    Th is is a site that does a grid-style review of about 40-50 online poker sites. Me, I like EmpirePoker.com.

    Play Poker Like the Pros [amazon.com]
    I found this book to be quite useful as a beginner but post-flop play advice is extremely vague or too caught up on specific situations that do not happen most of the time.

    Ken Warren Teaches Texas Hold'em [amazon.com]
    This is a GREAT book but there are a few critical examples in there where I think his editor should have been hung in effigy. There is one chart that I have yet to figure out what it means, a few areas I don't quite follow what he's saying because if it's read literally, it's logically inconsistent and even a few misspellings. But despite all of these gripes, the best book I've seen on the specific game of Texas Hold 'Em.

    He covers all areas of play, tells, betting (when to raise, when to check-raise, when to do none of the above), learning how to calculate outs, probabilities. He even includes "homework lessons" so you can better understand what hands may be profitable for your particular style of play.

    I guess I can make some recommendations...

    1) Playing for fake money is a great way to get a feel for the game in a general sense but people do not bet and play the same with fake money as they do with real money. I realize this may seem stupendously obvious but don't get your balls all worked up when you take in $1,000 in a night playing 5/10 Hold 'Em on Yahoo Games. These people play like asshats.

    2) Speaking of which, don't play on Yahoo Games. Most of the betting sites that will take real money deposits also let you play for fake chips as well. I find that people who will go through the hassle of downloading a client for a specific poker site tend to take a more serious approach to betting and therefore you'll have a better gague of your gameplay.

    One advantage of Yahoo, however, is that you cannot simply replenish your chips (AFAIK) by clicking on a few buttons. This means if you see someone with -2,402 chips, they kind of suck and you may want to avoid those tables if you really want to test your chops.

    3) Bust out your spreadsheet of choice and label the headings with some of these; date, play/real money, day of week (1-7), month date (1-31), location, game type (texas hold 'em, omaha, etc), low bet, high bet, start time, end time, duration (calculated from the previous two), time of day, start bank, end bank, win/loss (calculated from the previous two), # of large bets per hour, rate per hour, table "looseness" (1-10), secondary expenses, tips to dealer, tips to waitstaff, narrative.

    You might wonder what the day of the week and the day of the month have to do with anything. You will find that you do better or worse on certain days for reasons that may be non-obvious to you. For example, federal checks come on the 1st and the 15th, IIRC. Expect to see a better bankroll and profit on these days or even before since people will write checks that do not yet have backing a few days before knowing they'll be covered by the time they're cashed. Days of the week is probably a bit more obvious. Holidays factor in too.

    If you're at a real casino you can bring a small notepad to jot these down on and enter into the sheet. If you're playing online you can just enter them in at the end of your gaming session. Generally you can just highlight the last row along with the next e
  • by cardshark2001 (444650) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @06:12PM (#9263032)
    Probably the most important poker advice I've ever gotten came from a book called "Bret Maverick Teaches Poker". It's a little dated and doesn't have Texas hold'em if I recall, but it is a very solid poker book.

    This is the advice:

    1. Never enter into a hand if you don't have a fighting hand to start with.
    2. Never continue playing when you are beat showing.
    3. Often you should overplay your weak hands (but this does not change rule one)
    4. Often you should underplay your strong hands.

    Some may object that this gives weak players a chance to draw out on you (to beat you against the odds) because you let them stay in. I reply that it is a question of how *much* you win when you win that makes you successful, not how many *times* you win.

    Hold'em is a slightly different story if there are ten people at the table, but the basic concept applies.

    Yes, bet your premium hands. Just don't necessarily give away your hand strength by doing so. If you can let the other guy do the raising when you have him beat by long odds, you will make more profit more often.

    Conversely, if you are sitting in a Hold'em game in late position and you are thinking about limping in (entering the hand for the minimum bet) with an A-10 offsuit, think about raising the pot instead (doubling the amount of money in the pot). The fewer people in that hand, the more likely you are to win it.

    This simple advice has helped make me a winning player for a long time now.

  • by bkuhn (41121) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @06:14PM (#9263050) Homepage
    Outside of my day job as ED of FSF, I am very avid poker player, and have been playing poker profitably since even before I knew what Free Software was. About a year and a half ago, I began to get more serious about playing when I (at long last) discovered how close Foxwoods is to Boston, and how many home poker games run in the Boston area (although precious few of them are public-transit accessible). Indeed, poker is booming here: even The Boston Globe ran an article on 22 April 2004 about our poker scene.

    I play in a Tuesday home game run in the home of a Computer Science graduate student from a nearby University. Although some complain about the fact that the chips are all in "power of 2" denominations, that game does in fact draw a great mix of geeks and non-geeks. Occasionally there is geek talk at the table, but more often, it's not.

    I have found, actually, that poker in general and home poker in particular are excellent opportunities for geeks to apply their native skills to something new and exciting, while meeting people outside their regular sphere. Also, working on "reading" people, which is central in the higher limits and in "big bet" poker, can help geeks learn the empathy skills that a purely technical focus often neglects.

    Finally, for those of you in the Free Software world who would like to see Free Software Internet poker, I urge you to look at Mekensleep's work [mekensleep.org]. While they are creating a general GPL'd engine for online gaming, they are focusing their efforts foremost on poker. I hope some will choose to contribute to the project.

    Oh, and if anyone is looking for a home game, be sure to check out this site to find one [homepokergames.com].

  • by jedinite (33877) <slashdot DOT com AT jedinite DOT com> on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @06:24PM (#9263120) Homepage
    I'm a big poker geek. I currently derive a statistically significant portion of my income from playing limit hold-em - the adoption of riverboat gambling and local card rooms with standing limit holdem games has made this possible, along with high-quality internet poker rooms such as UltimateBet.com [ultimatebet.com]. I've been building a bankroll for a little over two years and have the current goal of retiring from the day job to play poker full time within the next five years. The influx of interest in the game has made it very easy to win money at poker in a casino setting or online. Lots of people buy in to games that have no real idea what they're doing...

    As the submitter mentions, poker (especially limit and no-limit hold'em) is a fantastic combination of skills including your ability to read people and math skills (especially your ability to calculate odds on the fly). It truly is a geek game, with many of the game's top players holding advanced degrees in mathematics, statistics, etc.

    In fact, I'll be in Vegas starting this weekend to buy in to one of the $1500 tournaments [harrahs.com] which make up the World Series. Of course I have very little chance of winning, but I figured it was time to roll up a stake, head to vegas and take my shot!

    Not a lot of people know there are 33 separate games making up the World Series, not just the grand $10k buy-in No Limit game you see televised on ESPN/etc. Speaking of which, with all the talk about it, it would have been nice for the submitter to include a link to the official WSOP website [binions.com].

    Required poker reading for those interested in getting dealt in:

    CardPlayer.com [cardplayer.com]. Poker news, tips and discussions. One of the best of the best. Includes a really good online odds calculator [cardplayer.com] you can use to double check your own math :)

    TwoPlusTwo.com [twoplustwo.com]. Website run by some of the smartest guys in gambling, David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth. Sklansky has an excellent series of highly-technical poker books for every skill level, including Hold 'Em Poker [amazon.com], Hold'Em Poker for Advanced Players [amazon.com], Tournament Poker for Advanced Players [amazon.com], and The Theory of Poker [amazon.com].

    Doyle Brunson's Super System [amazon.com]. Regarded by many as the bible on poker. Much of the information is outdated about specific games (the nature of the game has changed) but any respectable poker player knows this book.

    PhilHellmuth.com [philhellmuth.com]. Phil is a poker geek himself, one of the best players around (and the youngest to win the world championship). His recent book on poker Play Poker Like the Pros [amazon.com] is the best "intermediate" book around in my opinion.

    PokerPages.com [pokerpages.com]. Best place to find a game, be it a tournament or local game. Great source of poker news.

    There are also a great number of high quality poker blogs, including PokerBlog.com [pokerblog.com], GuinessAndPoker.com [blogspot.com] and ChrisHalverson.com [chrishalverson.com].

    Not to mention of course, the explosion of online poker sites, including UltimateBet.com [ultimatebet.com],

  • by ZB Mowrey (756269) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @06:57PM (#9263348) Homepage Journal

    My casino philosophy has kept me on the winning side of the equation for some time now.

    My lifetime up-to-down ratio is something like 4:1, and here's why:

    When I walk into the casino, I have already planned to spend $100. I think of it the same way I would going on any kind of night out: an expense. This money is already mentally written off (ie, I expect to lose it).

    If at any point during the evening my gambling fund is double or more than my initial fund amount, half my gambling fund goes into my wallet. Say I win $250 on a lucky call, having $50 still on me. I'm at $300, so now I drop $150 in my pocket. No matter what happens, no matter how bad the gods hate me, I will only gamble out of the fund, and not dig into wallet cash. In this example, I made $50, plus I got the night for free, because I got my $100 expense fund back. And I got to keep gambling from $150. :D

    The rule changes after that...but this is all instinct derived. I wouldn't be surprised if someone could produce a formula that squeezes high efficiency out of this, but it won't be me. For me, I just work off doubles for any one visit. At the $200, $400, and $800 points I split the gambling fund in half and put half away. After that, every $1,000. And so on, and so on, choosing whatever numbers suit your income and desire to bet.

    At some point, I might have $4000 set back, and just decide to let the gambling pot do whatever it will. Regardless of what happens, I can walk at any point, and have paid for the trip, the time, and still have cash to cover toys and taxes. And still come home with that $100 in my pocket.

    It could be that I just got lucky a couple of times, larger wins wiped out the small losses since I don't gamble a lot. I average one trip every couple of years, but as long as you keep your head it's not bad. Usually the problem comes when people gamble what they can't afford to lose, so they gamble more to win it all, and wind up screwed.

    Best rule ever: Always be prepared to lose just decide beforehand how much to lose, and stick to it.

  • by MaxNomad (736680) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @06:59PM (#9263370)

    Disclaimer -- the only form of Poker I play is Texas Hold'em, Low-Mid Limit and occasionally No Limit tournaments. I can't speak on the other variations of the game and, no, I don't work for or with any of the sources that I am citing.

    For starters, Hold'em, like any form of Gambling for real money, isn't for everyone. Gambling is called Gambling for a reason, otherwise they'd call it Savings. But if you're looking at getting into it, here is some food for thought:

    From a geek standpoint, I think one of the appeals that Hold'em Poker has is that it isn't so much a game a chance as it is more of a game of incomplete information. The very essence of living a geeked out existance is marinated in the ability to thrive in environments of incomplete information, whether solving problems or creating solutions. Out of those who consider themselves geeks, I'd have to say that those who are Hackers (whether in the genuine sense or cracking into computer/network/phone systems) would probably tend to have a little more of an edge than most. Aside from the logic and reasoning involved in playing the game, there's a certain instinct that develops, very similar to that certain "something" that enables some people the uncanny ability to take a look at a system, see what isn't obvious and find ways to make that system do things it wasn't originally designed to do. Anyone applying the Hacker Mentality to learning and playing the game will probably find that it won't take long for them to become formidable opponents.

    Another way to look at the game is that essentially you're putting together a puzzle, racing to put yours together first, and betting that you can put together a better puzzle than everyone else -- all done by assembling the information between the hole cards that you're dealt, the cards that are flopped, the final cards that hit the table, and the patterns of betting/raising/folding around the table. You're not only competing with others at the table but you're also competing with yourself since there are times when you'll have to fold on seemingly great hands because playing them through to the end of a round will only mean getting beat and throwing your money away. Outside of just plain old bad luck, when it comes to most people losing big at Hold'em, generally you can boil it down to either (1) the know the basic rules but being clueless about the game's dynamics, (2) playing with a lack of discipline, and/or (3) letting their egos dictate the way they play their cards instead of doing what the cards and the dynamics of the table during that particular round says they should do. I'm no expert but this is something I've observed way too often. I've competed in some small stakes Hold'em tournaments locally and walked away with the top prize several times. In each case the people that were easiest to knock out of the game succumbed to any one of those three, usually all of them by the time I was scooping up the last of their chips.

    The two foremost authors I've read on the subject are Sklansky and Malmuth. Between these three books -- The Theory of Poker by David Sklansky (ISBN: 1-880685-00-0), Hold'em Poker by David Sklansky (ISBN: 1-880685-08-6), and Hold'em for Advanced Players by David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth (ISBN: 1-880685-22-9) -- alot of patience, and alot of practice with both online poker play (start with play money) and stand-alone versions of the game, it doesn't take long to advance beyond being one of the novices throwing their money away at a table and getting beat like a baby seal. The rest comes with time and experience.

    Aside from those books, there are tons of sites out there on the subject. Here are a few that I found to be helpful during the learning processs:

    http://www.twoplustwo.com/ [twoplustwo.com]

    http://www.learn-texas-holdem.com/ [learn-texas-holdem.com]

    http://www.holdemsecrets.com/ [holdemsecrets.com]

    Als

  • by cwm9 (167296) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @07:14PM (#9263505)
    I love to play poker. I'm not the best player in the world, but I do win a little(!) bit. I think it's important to point out that poker is a very different form of gambling than 21 or craps or slots.

    There are many people who don't understand this, and in fact are probably reading this right now thinking, "oh, another delusional gambler."

    The thing you have to understand about poker (but not video poker) is that it is never played against the house. Instead, the house takes a small fee from each hand. In home games, there is no fee at all.

    This means that whether or not you win is based not only on the raw statistics of how the cards come, but also how your opponent plays.

    For example, note that before each hand of poker some or all players must play a forced bet, called a 'blind' or 'ante'. Of course, you are allowed to bet, call, raise, or fold at any time.

    Now, just suppose, you are playing against a complete idiot: someone who folds every hand at every opportunity, even if he has the best possible hand.

    Under these circumstances you would win 100% of the money. Every penny would be yours. Every hand you check, he says, "I don't think I can win", and he folds his hand.

    Now of course, people are not that dumb, and don't play this way. But it turns out that there is a very very very wide range of possible ways to play the game between playing perfectly (which means you are somehow able to guess with 100% accuracy what cards your opponent has and know with 100% accuracy what he will do in a given situation and calculate the odds 100% correctly in your favor) -- and playing like our hypothetical moron.

    This gap between ineptitude and perfection is what allows poker players to make money. The vast majority of players fall just above the moron line (believe it or not!) -- and this means there is plenty of room for people willing to learn how to play the game properly (and who have the discipline to actually do so!) to take money away from those who aren't willing.

    Most of the people who play poker ARE gamblers. They call with their hands to the river hoping to get lucky and win the pot. The poker player who isn't gambling is the one who uses all available information at his disposal to calculate the odds of his winning and who only plays the game if it is to his benifit to do so.

    For example, in Texas Hold'em, each player gets two cards and shares five. Suppose you are playing someone and are in the following hand:

    YOU: Ah Ad

    Board: Ac As 7h 5d

    At this point, even with one cards still left undelt, it is IMPOSSIBLE to lose this hand. Why? There are only four aces in the deck, so your opponent can have none. The very best hand he could have at this point would be a pair of sevens. Not even a straight flush is possible at this point because there is only one card left to come. The best your opponent could hope for would be to get another seven -- and lose anyway.

    When this happens in poker (it's called having the 'nuts'), every penny you bet that is matched by another player is profit. There are no odds at this point -- there is no question. You WILL win.

    Good players excel at placeing themselves in this situation, while avoiding situations where they are the ones on the losing end of the deal. (If you were on the losing side of this game, the best thing you could do would be to fold and not give your opponent any more money. But most people will call you down because they "Just had to see what you had!")

    If you still believe that winning or losing at poker is random, just take a look at the WSOP: Just as in golf, each year the same 20 professionals keep coming back to play, and each year it's those same 20 people who walk away with the bulk of the money. Oh, sure, every now and then someone wins the competition who probably shouldn't have, and every now and then a professional loses a lot of money. But averaged over time, in the end, it's the good players who will end up with the cash.

    The only real difference is that in Golf sponsers usually pay the entrance fee, where as in poker, each player fronts his own fee.

    Just something to think about when someone says, "Poker," and you think, "Slots."

    -Chiem

  • Computer Security (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tpengster (566422) <slash@ t p e ngster.com> on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @09:09PM (#9264200)
    While many have posted about pokerbots, odds calculations, and other game-related issues, i'm surprised no one has brought up the issue of security.

    Internet pokerrooms are an exploding phenomenon; according to my sources, one of the largest pokerrooms makes over $2 million/day. However, as you might expect, this brings up some security issues.

    The most basic of these is random number generation. A long time ago, one of the poker rooms had a faulty Random Number Generator. They were re-seeding it for every hand! And worst of all, they posted their code online to demonstrate how "secure" it was... The best poker rooms today will use a hardware RNG with all sorts of goodies to protect the data stream.

    Another issue is that of fraud. Hackers have been known to buy-in with stolen cc's, and then dump that money to accomplices, then, when the victim charges back, the poker room is left holding the bill. This doesn't affect the players so much, since the poker rooms end up losing the money; but the best poker rooms will impose limits on (first) deposits to prevent this.

    Yet another issue is that of collusion [slashdot.org]detection. Another AI problem, which is a pattern-detection problem, is to check when two people are "playing partners". Some of this software is already in use right now and (to my knowledge) works fairly well. I think a big problem for colluders is, not only do they have to make their collusion effective, but they have to avoid the detection software.. and if you can avoid the detection software, that probably puts a big enough dent into your cheating plan that it renders it useless.

    Finally, it brings up the issue of e-cash in general. While paypal does not allow online gambling, there is a whole industry of electronic payment services that thrive on gambling, the main one being Neteller. Since none of these are US-based, does the US risk losing dominance in this potentially important area of the future? And how secure are these accounts anyway? The people I know who use these things keep very little money in them and withdraw regularly to a real bank account.

    So as you can see, poker and internet poker in particular brings up far more computer issues than simply the problem of a Poker-playing AI/poker strategy.
    Thoughts are welcome.
  • by eisbaer4 (195961) on Wednesday May 26, 2004 @09:14PM (#9264223) Homepage

    Yes, poker is a game for mathematically-oriented geeks. In fact, the game is undergoing a revolution, with the savvy young players overthrowing the old guard, because they simply have better tools in their toolbox. Understanding how the other player thinks is still absolutely essential to playing at the top level, but there are also many mathematical concepts (beyond simple probabilities) that are very important to poker strategy.

    In the old days of the Internet (before AOL), the newsgroup rec.gambling.poker had an incredibly high signal to noise ratio. Good players shared their insights, and many of them went on to be major stars in the poker world. I was just down at the WSoP and met with several of them (old friends and new acquaintances, many world champions among them).

    Television has suddenly made poker into a spectacle, and the growth in popularity has been spectacular. Online poker is also booming, with thousands of geeks fleecing the millions of players who have less knowledge about the game.

    If you want to learn more about this great game, visit some of the links on the The University of Alberta Computer Poker Research Group [ualberta.ca] home page. You will need to read a lot (especially the books by Sklansky and Malmuth), and practice a lot before you become a good player.

    One good tool for providing endless hours of practice is the commercial version of our research programs, Poki's Poker Academy [poki-poker.com].

    Now is a great time to have fun and augment your income playing poker.

    - Darse.

    ( hey look moderators! it's the actual guy! :)

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