Haley's Poker Blog

No bad beats, but still a poker blog... hence the anguish.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Monte-ZeeJustin's Revenge

Some screen names that might tip you off that feared internet player --- and caught cheater --- "ZeeJustin" (Justin Bonomo) is making a surreptitous comeback:

#8: NoMo_Zee
#7: ZeeJustinRun
#6: Kiss_Me_Lee
#5: EeZeeJustin
#4: BrokebankZee
#3: TruthOrJustn
#2: I_heart_Party
#1: Justin6times

Monday, March 13, 2006

Reviews, Apologies and Rants

An uber-post, in the grand Iggy tradition.

One of the things I've noticed in my return to the keyboard (after a three-year absence) is that I'm concentrating again on the the overall quality of writing in the universe. It hasn't improved a whole helluva lot. That's true in blogdom, above all else, and it's one of the reasons why I kept from starting my own blog for quite some time. Blogs are nothing if not the modern epitome of Sturgeon's Law (originally known as Sturgeon's Revelation): "Ninety percent of everything is crud."

It's as true for poker writing as anything else. Most of what's out there is an exercise in vanity--- either derived from other work, a quick grab for cash, or something that just suffers from that writer's bane, the "I"-infection. That last group is easy enough to identify. Just look for work that starts with the word "I" --- with "My" being a symptom of the same affliction --- and you'll usually find the writers who aren't valuing their audience in the way that they should; rather, they write under the misheld belief that their readers' time is theirs by right. Go on over to Blogs On Poker [site now down, see note at bottom], which pulls in blogs that put out an XML feed, and see just how prevalent the "I" disease really is.

How sad. Writers owe their audience, not t'other way around. Note that good writers occassionally start their pieces with possesives, too, but those are usually contrasted with their other work. Bad writers do the I-thing virtually every time.

I'm reminded of this when I think about some of the really good poker writing that's out there. I'm not talking about the strategy books, but rather, the real-life accounts of this or that or some other aspect of the poker world. The poker "story" books. I'll share a story here.

Frequent readers of this blog know that I've become good phone friends with poker author Lou Krieger, and I engaged him on this topic one day not too long ago. Lou opted for Al Alvarez's The Biggest Game in Town, and I mentioned James McManus's Positively Fifth Street. Both are thoroughly gripping reads, and in both, some of the very best writing is on topics connected only peripherally to the core issues of the respective books.

Both are stories about life, and poker just happens to be the mechanism for the telling.

One of the closing passages from Biggest Game serves as its epilogue; it could've been left out of the book in its entirety, yet its inclusion somehow puts the capper on the whole deal. The anecdote is not about the tournament making up the core of the book, but its impact is timeless. At a post-tournament game, a New York journalist asks veteran Jack Straus if he feels sorry for the people he beats....

Straus stretched comfortably. His left eyelid drooped, and he looked at the journalist's face as though along the barrel of a gun. "Funny you should ask that," he said. He put his elbows on the table. His voice was low and imminent. "Just last month, back in El Paso, I played a house painter and beat him out of a whole month's salary --- twelve hundred and forty dollars --- and I took a hundred dollars on tab. When the game was over, he signed his paycheck over to me, and I drove him home to collect the rest. He lived in a lower-middle-class section of town, and when we got to his house his wife was there with their six children. 'Honey,' he said, 'I've got some bad news. I lost the paycheck paying poker.' 'Shush,' she said, and herded the children into the next room. Then she started to cry. 'How are we going to feed the kids next month?' she said. 'Honey,' he said, 'I haven't told you the worst part. I still owe this gentleman a hundred dollars.' Well, while they were talking I was looking around, and I noticed her purse lying open by the telephone. There was a ten-dollar bill in it and a one. So you know what I did?'

As Straus talked, he had gradually leaned forward across the table, until his face was just inches from the journalist's. "No," said the journalist, eyes wide with concern. "What did you do?"

Straus's left eye drooped further; his expression was grave. "I just took the ten-dollar bill," he said, "and let him slide for the rest."

--- Al Alvarez
, The Biggest Game in Town

Such wonderful, detailed, insightful writing. There's a reason Biggest Game is considered a seminal work, and passages such as this are it.

Now here is beautiful writing of a very different sort from McManus's New Wave shosetsu. The following passage captures McManus, playing an ever-bigger part of his own story, in the days between his satellite victory and the start of the WSOP Main Event:

T minus sixty-three hours, forty-seven minutes, and counting. The last time Time trudged this recalcitrantly Mary Beth Marino had agreed to let me take her to Topp's Big Boy as soon as I turned sixteen and got my driver's license, companion milestones a good seven months off. The time before that I was in second grade, looking forward with evangelical ardor to my First Holy Communion; having reached the Age of Reason --- six and a half, according to the Roman Catholic Church --- I'd recently made my first confession ("disobeyed my parents four times, told a lie twice...") and was champing at the bit to receive the body and blood of Christ on my tongue, then get showered with presents and cash. The time before that was in utero.

--- James McManus
, Positively Fifth Street

In its own way, that's every bit as wondrous as the Alvarez passage. And so enlightening beyond the words themselves, in the tradition of the best story-telling.

Were that the people who serve as poker's day-to-day frontline writers be as gifted. Michael Craig comes to mind. No one else has had the guts to say it, so I will: In The Professor, The Banker, and the Suicide King, Craig took a topic that had the potential to be as gripping as the above two books, and turned it into a pleasant but thoroughly uninspiring read. Craig is at best a competent, hard-working writer, basically what journalists ought to be. But at this point in his career, Craig lacks both the wordsmithing mastery and the authoring acuity --- that special insight --- that can take a story and make it more than the sum of its words.

But there's a larger issue within what I've read from Michael Craig than the actual skill level of the work. Too often we see how Craig hedges his wordplay to ensure his continued access to his subjects. Craig's far from the worst at it, but it's there, nonetheless. Here's a typical example from The Professor,..., taken from an early chapter that describes the initial poker excursion of Andy Beal to Las Vegas:

Amid the fun time, Andy Beal understood the real game being played. At $80-$160, his opponents were all professional poker players who saw him as easy pickings. He was just killing an evening, relaxing. If they could figure out how to get a few thousand of his dollars, good for them. He played aggressively, by instinct, and his wary opponents usually afforded the newcomer a wide berth until they figured out how he played. So he continued to win.

--- Michael Craig
, The Professor, The Banker, and the Suicide King

Yep; you read it from Craig first. All you have to do is play aggressive, and the pros at the 80/160 tables will duck you and you're on your way to a profitable session. What crap. There are only two explanations: either Beal's cards ran hot or he already had lots more game than the pros would give him credit for, at least initially. And while subsequent events proved that Beal could play, it still doesn't explain the faulty logic and careful non-fault-assigning wording embued in the above. "Wary" and "respectful"? I'd say "professionally tight" and "caught making some moves" instead. But saying that would reduce the suck-up factor to all involved.

Seriously, Craig's work isn't that bad. What he writes is Laureate material when compared with what we see from some of the player-writers whose work is slapped into print just to pump another big name onto a magazine's cover. (Antonio Esfandiari's dreadful "Poker Like a Rock Star" columns in Bluff come to mind.) Nor is Craig the only writer to fall into the suck-up trap. Here's another example of that, from the otherwise reliable Michael Kaplan. This time we excerpt from the preamble of his interview with Mike Matusow, published in Card Player last September:

[Matusow] didn't win the event (the 2005 WSOP), but he took home a prize of $1 million and busted out with nary a whimper (which is way out of character for The Mouth). That Matusow had recently gotten out of jail, after serving six months for what appears to be a trumped-up charge of drug dealing, makes his Series performance all the more impressive. --- Michael Kaplan, "Mike Matusow --- More Than a Mouthful," Card Player, September 05, 2005.

We have here the classic writer's sin of omission --- in this case, stating that Matusow served six months on a "trumped-up charge...," without offering a single shred of evidence why this is so.

Bleeeah. I'm surprised that the passage got through editorial at Card Player. Needless to say, my trust in that interview went out the window before I even got to the start of the questions and answers.

Which brings me around to me, and why this most introspective and scathing of my posts was written in the first place. I wrote it because I was angry at me.

I took over the writing duties just recently for Kick Ass Poker's "This Week in Poker" blog, a nominally-paying gig. Cool enough. The guys at KAP have given me free reign to come up with entertaining poker content, and I'm trying to hard to oblige. That said, I was put in an unusual situation after only a week on the job.

What happened is that Lou's new book (co-authored by Sheree Bykofsky), Secrets the Pros Won't Tell You About Winning Hold-Em Poker, hit the shelves. A mention of a new book is always newsworthy, particularly one from a veteran, high-quality poker author such as Lou. But in walking the fine line between blurb and plug, I turned my own mini-piece a little bit sideways. It happens. It's not my best work, even if I am still working the rust off my writing chops.

So here's what you need to know. The book is a solid addition to the working library of the intermediate-level poker player. In the KAP piece, I contrasted this to some of Sklansky's books, and I did this to highlight the difference between an instructor and a teacher. Sklansky's an instructor: he shapes his learning packages into a form that fits both the material and Sklansky's own manner of thinking. By contrast, Lou's a teacher: he formats his strategy books into thought patterns that match to what he believes his target audience to be. The difference is vital, and it explains one of the great values of Lou's books (and this work in particular): The difference in the way the message is communicated impacts how well the knowledge is received. Many people do better with Sklansky's books. Others would do better with Lou's.

But I screwed up, and didn't get my own message across very well. Ah, well.

Be forewarned: You may encounter a review or two on major sites with a summary along these lines, and I'll tell you in advance, I may well have written it. It doesn't mean I'm right or wrong, or whether Lou's book is right for your current level of poker knowledge and education. But at least I'll be writing closer to my personal sense of true.

A late update: Some unnamed poker blogger, in his infinite wisdom, has recently complained about the blog-accumulator site mentioned above, with the result that the above site is no longer being available. As Bugs would have said, "What a maroon." My totally insincere thanks goes out to the navel-gazing blogger who's unaware of the distinction between a content thief and a site accumulator, pulling down something marginally valuable in his fervor. A site accumulator, such as the one formerly above or the "blogroll" that can found over at All-In, works much like a real-estate listing service, for much the same reasons. The above site pulled in the first 50 words of so of recently posted blog entries and dutifully offered titles and links to the blogs posting the original work, much the same way a real-estate agency posts or publishes photos of houses. It's a service: that's what services do. I didn't see content theft at the above; I saw an aggregation service, of some value. I'd ask the complaining blogger to remove his head from his nether regions and go query Bill Rini about the difference, because Bill indeed gets it --- he knows more about the tug-of-war between technological capabilities and intellectual rights than virtually any other poker-content writer. But this other blogger... well, that's sort of the point of this post, anyway.

Mindless stuff...

Our Top Ten Scrabble®-Board Poker Names:

#10: DEEB
#9: KRUX
#8: BONYADI
#7: FARHA
#6: SICA
#5: AMIT
#4: NEGREANU
#3: ARIEH
#2: LEDERER
#1: HACHEM

Bluff Equity and Made-Hand Equity --- A Bounty-Tournament Example

Today's entry focuses on a recent hand I played in a recent "Expert Series" tournament on Royal Vegas Poker. Sometimes one has to play the cards; sometimes one plays the situation. This is the latter, of course, and your comments are welcome.

We'd just cracked the bubble into the land of [small] pay, but don't think we were talking untold riches here --- this is a promotional tourney with a $20+2 entry fee and $10 re-buy and add-on options. It's a publicity tool for the site and the pro players involved, and this tourney also includes bounties: Knock out a pro, collect an extra $50, a t-shirt and maybe an autographed book, too, if the pro you knock out is an author.

As it was, the final 20 made the cash, and spots 11-20 were all scheduled to receive the same --- $50. (First place was $1,500, so there was significant reward for reaching the final table.) We were down to 19 players, and I was rather short-stacked, in 17th position with about 7,400 chips. The blinds were 500/1000, almost ready for another jump, and I was in the small blind. Site host and poker author Lou Krieger was one of two pros at my table; he was a couple of seats to my right. To my immediate left was Matt Lessinger, author of The Book of Bluffs, in the big blind, and he was in 18th place, even a bit more short-stacked, with about 7,100 chips. I'd played with Matt extensively in the previous week's tourney, so he had some basic feel for my style --- no major advantage for me there.

Anyhooo...

Despite the fact that Matt and I are the short stacks, it's folded all the way around to me in the small blind. I have J-9 of diamonds. I have four options, near as I can tell: (1) dump the hand; (2) limp in and hope Matt lets me play (not veddy damn likely, wot?); (3) come in for 2,000-3,000 and hope Matt has bricks... and tosses them; (4) move all in. What would you do here?

Well, anyone with half a brain would guess that I tried Door #4 --- if I hadn't, I wouldn't have anything to write about, would I? And Matt called me with his A-4 off, neither of us improved, and I was down to nearly zero and eliminated two hands later. So be it.

But here's the interesting part: Even though my hand was mediocre and I had four ways of playing it, in reality this was my only good option, due to the tournament situation. The final-table bubble looked like it would pop at between 20,000 and 25,000 chips, meaning that even with a double-through, either Matt or I would still have an uphill battle to the table, but at least have a reasonable chance of succeeding in that battle with a doubled stack of chips. I went out in 19th place, but spots 18th through 11th paid nothing extra. In addition, I had Matt slightly outchipped, so if he did look me up and lose to me, I'd be guaranteed $100 plus swag, rather than just the 19th-place $50 payout.

So in an important way I was getting better than 2-to-1, but on the hand payoff, not the hand itself. Toss in whatever "bluff equity" (one of Lou's pet terms, I've discovered) I had, and I suggest that this play goes into the category of an almost-automatic all-in. Not with any two, but with any two reasonable to have a chance, which I did. And I did it knowing that my bluff equity was smaller than normal, too: I put the odds of Matt's folding here at 10% or less. Without attempting to speak for someone who's a helluva lot better player than I am, I'll simply note that Matt knew that I wouldn't be afraid to make a play, rightly or wrongly on my part.

I expected Matt to look me up, and I expected to be behind once he did, but the situational rewards were simply too great to pass up. I made the play. The expected outcome occurred: I was out of the tourney. And I have no regrets. Nonetheless, the fact that I was able to make this secondary analysis on the fly suggests that I'm making some basic strides as a poker player.

As I mentioned above, Lou Krieger chatted with us at the table about how the pros have little or no "bluff equity" in a bounty-style tournament. He even wrote an article about it a few months back in Card Player. His hypothesis, briefly paraphrased, is that the pros in a bounty tournament are at a relative disadvantage because it's seldom possible for them to pull off a great bluff; the bounties on their heads mean that other players will look them up with any reasonable holding. Lou's article then posits that it ultimately means that the pros will be, sooner or later, knocked out of the proceedings.

I agree largely, but not totally. While it's undeniable that the pros' ability to bluff is greatly diminished in a bounty tournament, I pointed out to Lou that the opposite is true as well: When the pro in a bounty tournament does possess a made hand or a solid pre-flop holding, he is likely to receive a greater-than-normal reward for his hand. I quipped it to Lou as "made-hand equity," and it does exist --- one need look no further than the situation with my final hand against Matt above to see how it benefitted Matt there, though it's more often noticeable post-flop, when bounty hunters chase with holdings not worth the chasing. Think about it: While I might make the same play above against someone else, I'd be far less likely to do so without the bounty in place and at hand. The counterbalance to the loss of "bluff equity" is there, but whether it's an equal counterbalance is something better left to the experts. As always, it's a learning experience for me.

Agree? Disagree? Don't be afraid to drop me a line --- that e-mail address is around here somewhere!

--- Haley :-)

Moving Days

Moving days, again and still...

The relocation to a new apartment has finally completed, and I'm back online. That said, I've been in somewhat of a malaise the past few weeks, probably the combination of the moving stress, the fact that I've become estranged from my my parents and my "growin' up" family this past year, and that the temporary job gig continues to suck up major hours for the time being.

Persevere. Onward. Always move onward.

I've played a bit of poker, of course, with unexceptional results the past weeks; only a third-place in a small tournament on Titan (I-Poker) and the usual (and now predictable) overall gain playing Party SNG's having any positive impact on bankroll. As of now, the temp gig precludes me from getting back in time for most of Wil Wheaton's tourneys on Friday evenings, so I haven't even had a chance to run across the other poker bloggers as of late.

Goals? None for now. Live to see tomorrow, school the young pups, and keep a roof over my head betwixt and between the rest. That'll do this holiday season, that'll do indeed.

More soon, but for now it was just time for the update to let both of my fans know that I am indeed back in business. Thanks!

...

And that previous text, which didn't appear for very long:

I've been in the process of relocating to an apartment over the past couple of weeks, here in this alien and seemingly endless suburbia that's north and west of Chicago. It's been a slow process, because I'm a disorganized, slow-motion mover, though I'd like to take this moment to publicly invite the dinks at U-Haul to take the proverbial long walk off a short pier. Im attempting to return the damned truck, I encountered customer service so terrible it was disgraceful --- from a website that sent me to a non-existent business to a help-line customer "service" rep who laughed at me when I asked him what I was supposed to do with the stupid truck, after finding and returning from the emptied storefront. How nice. Then again, at least the truck's speedometer/odometer was close to accurate, not like the 30%-altered gauge I remember from when a friend moved and rented similar equipment from Ryder. Seems like an industry where scum rules... Anyhow, U-Haul and I aren't quite finished with each other yet --- heh.

My hour's drive (or more) each way to the temp job each weekday reminds me again why I really hate that stuff, and though the people I work with are nice folks, I'm just not one of them. In an analytical sense, one must be a sheep to do the stuff I'm currently doing, and one must also be highly risk-averse to swallow the high level of corporate pap slammed down the workers' throats on a minute-by-minute basis. Sadly for me, I'm neither risk-averse nor a sheep. So in a few short weeks I'll search for work again, because I'd go postal if I knew I was stuck in that environment for the duration. No doubt the rut I'm currently in emanates from these early paragraphs --- sorry! Sometimes life's not a lot of fun, and it just hasn't been for me of late.

As for poker? Sure, that's what I've been spending the rest of my spare time on. I've been continuing my experiment concerning Sit-'N'-Gos as a way of measuring my poker skills, and the results have been mildly encouraging. I wish there was an easy way to determine when one is ready for the jump up to the next level, but I don't seem to be able to do much more in the 10+1 games, so after some more bankroll-building, it'll be on to the $20 level. I set a personal record myself here by recently cashing in 11 straight SNG's, but I've also had some runs of six or eight in a row where I haven't cashed at all. Ahh, variance.

I also dropped a couple of hundred into an account at Titan Poker, then discovered ruefully that until I get a faster computer, I won't be able to make significant headway on the bonus. The host network is even slower than Prima, which is saying something.

Addendum to that: I've discovered that one of the two "problems" I've had with Prima software is technically mine --- my old computer's processor wasn't fast enough for Prima's needs. The upshot is that I kept timing out when attempting to play two or more tables, even though most other sites I used with the old computer didn't lock up when multi-tabling. In addition, Prima was having some issues with rampant "hand being saved" problems which casued interminable stretches between hands; near the end of one small tourney we encountered a stretch where the software only let us play four hands in 30 minutes. And no, it wasn't hand-for-hand time.

As for Titan, yes, there'll be a review coming up, but my generally feeling is that Titan and the other related skins comprise a network that is searching for (and is bubbling just shy of) critical mass. I'm not enamored of their software, either, but we'll touch on that stuff soon, too.

Ta-ta!

Catching Up, Always Catching Up

In a no-limit tournament, you have exactly one true weapon --- your chip stack. Wield it wisely and cautiously!

Sunday evening update! I had an absolute blast at the first ever Blogger Poker Championship at PokerStars, which has just reached the final table as I write this. (Even later update: Easy_Wind won the durn thing, and MattyWhoOwesMeALinkCuzHeKnockedMeOutDammit! took 3rd. My durned TT ran into his KK buzzsaw, in case you're not wondering. Not even a bad beat. Boo-hoo.) Nearly 1,500 bloggers entered, and I indeed "swagged" in this one, coming in 92nd after being short-stacked much of the way, garnering a t-shirt... which is plenty cool enough for a freeroll of this nature. ("Swagging" is hereby defined as placing in the "cash" --- read: merchandise --- in a tournament where only non-cash prizes are awarded.)

And it's the rare tournament indeed that keeps me watching and chatting after I've been bounced, which is what happened here, though I did sneak over to --- and win --- a $10 SNG while I watched and chatted.

Major ups to PokerStars for this one. Though I really wanted the damn monitor(!), the action was plenty tough later on and I'm satisfied with my result. I had a chance to run into some of the poker bloggerscenti, and had a great time chatting with them all. Up4Poker visited a table that had me, eventual-third-[placer Matty, April, Iggy, PokerNerd, and a couple of more well-known bloggers at it --- well, except me, that is --- and I'd like to toss Up4 special ups for not only given me a link, but putting it directly under Daniel Negreanu's entry. Thanks, but how are you gonna 'splain that one to Daniel?

I'd seen reports that some people thought it was an exceptionally loose and easy-playing tourney, and all I can say is, luck of the draw, doods. My tables were largely tight and present-and-accounted for; I didn't encounter my first blank player until into my second hour of play. But I was there for the chat as much as the game, and collectively, it was the best damn table-chat ever in a largish tourney... despite the all-caps cretin who GONZO'd at visiting bossman Lee Jones at the final table. Excepting that, the blogger tourney showed how table chat is supposed to be used --- a true rarity in online poker.

And now, back to the rest of our scheduled rambling...






A short piece will suffice here, to let [both of] my readers know that this isn't a cob-web site after all. I'm five weeks into my current temp-to-hire gig, otherwise known as Purgatory, and if you think I exaggerate, then change your mind: I'm answering calls all day dealing with health-insurance and pensions. From retirees who often view the call as the highlight of their days. Shoot me, please, shoot me.

Alright, it's not that bad; it pays more and is less soul-rending than the almost-as-recent gig as a CNA at South Elgin, IL's Alderwood Health Care Center, a nursing home surely a northern cousin of that place in New Orleans that let their residents drown in Hurricane Katrina. I left this place on short notice, preserving both my sanity and my accreditation in one fell swoop, because the CNAs at the facility were put into a position where compliance with administrative practices and state law was not only contradictory, it was physically impossible. And speaking of shooting me, please let someone do that before they stick me in a nursing home like that. And this, time, I'm serious.

But I digress. This is a poker site, after all, so I can't even go beyond the merest mention of my Thursday night cribbage league without risking the loss of your interest. As for the game with chips, I've been rotating my recent time between Party, Bet365 (Prima skin) and PokerStars. Despite Stars' minimal sign-on bonuses, I wanted to get a feel for the action there (hint: review in progress), and see just how tough the action is in general. Most of what others have said about Stars I find to be true, but that will appear elsewhere, very soon. And as should be obvious, I'll give the Poker Blogger Championship a go and hope for the best --- the tourney's tomorrow as this is written. That should be interesting --- I expect a heavy mix of better and solid poker players, sprinkled with a decent-sized number of people who have, relatively speaking, no clue. The early action may be highly entertaining.

Over at Party, in the wake of their ruthless actions concerning their affiliates, I've drawn down my account there to just $100 or so --- I simply don't feel comfortable there right now. In a way it's a twofold measure for me, because I can always reload when the inevitable Thanksgiving bonus comes around. But in the meantime, I'm moving into a new apartment in the next week or two, so having a little more cash on-hand is just fine right now, given my overall nonexistant budget.

The Bet365 Prima skin is one of those places that's just too profitable for me to not keep giving it some action. In addition to the nice freebies offered across all of Prima, Bet365's had monthly bonus programs for September and October that have been all but a pure $100 handout. Thank you, Bet365! Then, toss in the relatively easier Prima action --- though their software shows no sign of improving ---and Bet365's own customer-loyalty perks, and I simply can't stay away.

For instance, Bet365 has an every-Saturday $5,000 freeroll that you're eligible for simply by opening a cash account. Yes, it draws nearly 7,000 players every week, but it's still a damn site better than the pathetic crap that you find on Stars or Paradise. I took 140th out of 6,817 earlier today for a whopping $7.50 --- whoop-de-do!! --- but the point is this: I could do it while packaging up some mail and responding to stuff on the web. No muss, no fuss, and no risk.

Then comes Bet365's monthly $30,000 "VIP" freeroll, which is reserved for players who manage to achieve a whopping 200 raked hands in the previous month. Now think about it: nearly 7,000 players will logon and try their luck at a weekly freeroll, but barely 2200 players achieved the 200 raked hands needed to qualify for a freeroll with six times as much money at stake. Let's see...: One third the players and six times the purse (compared to the weekly $5K freebie) equals a freeroll with 18 times the overlay per player. In my second try two weeks ago I grabbed 52nd (out of 2200+) for a quick $120. Hey, I'll show up for that...

So where will you find me next? Hard to say --- I've been playing lots of $10+1 Sit-'N'-Gos lately, trying to work on my end game as much as anything, and have been showing a slight profit so far. There is a link to a separate page within my tourney notes section, for those of you not already bored to death. (Let's just say that I've been disappointed in my own play in these so far, but am still a bit ahead at these stakes, about $50 net for something like 25 tourneys. Not great; I can do better.)

I've been playing micro-tournaments as well, when I'm not chopping out a sign-on bonus somewhere. I've come close to decent paydays twice in the last few weeks, and took a final table bad-beat in one that ended my dreams of a new computer the following day. Out in 7th for a hundred and change --- drat. C'est la vie, sweetie!

One of the features that I've been toying with adding is a quickie review/comparison of the three leading poker "print" magazines --- Card Player, All-In and Bluff. The recent Card Player interview of Mike Matusow struck me as one of the most gutless pieces of journalism I've come across in recent memory; it was what those of us in the writing profession refer to as "kiss-ass journalism". And who the hell is Mike Matusow to deserve that?? Aside from that bankrupt offering, all three of the magazines suffer from internal inconsistency, but all have strengths as well. The reviews are definitely something for the "when I get around to it" file.

My search for the right type of software to make my crosswords and word searches interactive also goes on, and it's been fruitless and frustrating. I can buy the software for the crosswords easy enough, but the only wordsearch software around is garbage that builds the puzzle itself from your list. My professional opinion (as a writer who's also had dozens of puzzles published) is that such software invariably sucks --- the finished puzzles they churn out play like last week's fishwrap. But my search for the Holy Grail of wordsearch puzzle software continues...

Seriously, I'm starting to get a few e-mails from visitors, so thank you all for stopping by. I do appreciate your taking the time to visit my little electronic backwater.

What Good Play? A Tourney-from-Hell Recap

Want to go for a wild-and-crazy ride? Then find yourself a spot in an ultra-low buy-in fixed-limit tournament, preferably with the availability of re-buys and add-ons. And be brave, very brave. The following is a recap of my play in one of these recent tourneys, and it's not pretty.

By way of background information: This was the $1,000 Guaranteed Fixed-Limit Tournament on the Prima Poker Network, starting at 3:30 a.m. EDT on September 12, 2005. I'd played this tournament a dozen or so times previously, doing quite well. The tourney normally attracts 170-200 players, invariably pays 20 places, and I'd already won it once and cashed two or three other times. This tournament epitomizes loose tournament play... but that doesn't mean a tighter player's necessarily going to win. The times are in military format: 0230 = 2:30 a.m.

Tourney Recap: $1,000 Guarantee Fixed-Limit Hold-'Em
Entry Fee: $3.00 (+ 0.50)
Starting Chips: 1,500

0232: First hand --- I catch 10-8 suited one ahead of the button, watch two limpers, a raiser and a cold-caller jump in in front of me. Tempting, but I want to get a handle on who the donkey betters are before I speculate. (Chip Total: 1,500)

0234: Second hand --- and already we have the first re-buy request for the table. Yee-hah! In fixed I like to wait a little while before making a rebuy, usually until I can't cover the needed four rounds of max bets without going all-in. I mean, when the blinds are 10/20, what's the point? I prefer to play on other people's money.

0241: Almost all Euro players here this time of night --- just me and one dude from Atlantic City representing this side of the pond, out of the 10 at my start table. Three of them, out of five Swedes total, are from Stockholm.

0242: I find K-10-off in the BB; six limpers to me this hand. The Q-7-5 rainbow makes it a throwaway. Across from me, a player named Lars_Vegas (claiming to be from Atlantic City), who's already played at least five hands, completes a Q-high straight with a J on the river, fitting his lovely 10-9-off pocket.

0244: Woo-hoo! Ks-Kd on the button, but a dangerous 2-J-J flop comes, including two hearts. I'd raised pre-flop and do it again on the turn when the board J's are checked to me, though I still get two callers. My bet on the heart 9 turn (representing the flush) gets rid of one of them, but the other, a player named LeDiable who's also already played several hand, calls again. A scary heart Q arrives on the river for the board four-flush, and the donkey turns out to have played the deuce of clubs and the (*sigh*) six of hearts. He called a pre-flop raise with 6-bleepin'-2 unsuited!! Jesusfuckingchrist!! (TC: 1,350)

0246: I try to steal on cutoff w/ A-10-off, and no betting before me; behind me the button 3-bets. Junk flop, no help. Crap. Lovely frigging start. Last place at the table. (TC: 1,230)

0248: There's lots of infomercials airing on a Sunday night/Monday morning.

0253: 8-3 suited in the BB. With four limpers between me and the button's raise, I'm almost tempted. Said "almost". Fittingly, a third manic type playing Q-4-off takes it away from that button raiser when the doof spikes a third four. I need a hardhat around here.

0256: It's checked around to me on the button where I give it a pop with a suited 9-8, but the LAG (loose-aggressive) player behind me (a thomas5555 from Stockholm) comes over the top again, out of the small blind. I end up with a gutshot straight draw plus overcards to the rag flop of 2-5-6, which kept me in all the way to a cheap showdown when a surprising check occurred. Unfortunately, a third player takes it down with a paired six. It turns out the 3-betting LAG has A-Jx --- about what I figured. (CT: 1,005) At least a couple of loose types have plummeted below me.

0258: A-8x under the gun, the second A I've seen. Well, -I- won't play it.

0300: Played to the turn for free from the BB. No nothing, not even a pair. Really sucky first half-hour. 0% hands won. (CT: 930)

0302: My K-10-off on the button gets dumped to the inevitable raise and re-raise from the two manic types in middle position. The board ultimately reads 8-4-6-6-7 with no flush possible. LeDiable's K-Qx didn't win, losing to the cold-call BB who turned over a suited J-7. Gawd. And the 3-better, who played to the showdown, had to have had slick or similar, too.

0305: With A-J-off, I smooth-call behind Lars (who raised pre-flop again), with the added protection of a cold-caller between him and me. The flop comes 3-8-A rainbow; Lars bets, I raise, and we've lost the third player. I bet again on the raggy 7 turn and raggier 5 river, and Lars_Boy mucks it there. (CT: 1580)

0307: My pocket 5-5 goes nowhere in the face of an A-J-6 all-diamond flop. Good old LeDiable's 10-9-of-diamonds pocket pushes him up to 5,390. Sigh.

0308: Good girl --- I dump K-Jx from position 5. The 8-K-A flop was trouble anyway.

0309: On the TV, Ron Popeil's done spieling; now Time-Life's selling their '70s soul collection. Ron's better entertainment in the context of an infomercial, somehow. Time for CNN.

0312: I find K-K again in the BB. The UTG player raises, there's one cold-caller (Lars), the button 3-bets, and I cap. The flop is a two-suited 8-8-9, with a Q and a 3 falling later, no help to the flush. Looks safe, right? Particularly since my bet on the flop scared off two of the players. But... Loose_Lucky_Lars takes it down with his lovely suited 8-7. And now I've got a cat on my lap, too, stomping my lap for attention. (CT: 480) K-K sucks.

0313: Re-buy. *sigh* (CT: 1,830)

0315: K-K a third time?? Sure enough. It gets capped again going to the flop, whcih comes a semi-dangerous 10-6-10 rainbow, but it's just me and the player who re-raised and capped me pre-flop. The 2 and 3 on the flop don't change my opinion of the strength of my hand in this heads-up match, whci, by the way, is against the player under the gun. I'm prepared to tell him nice hand for his AA at showdown time, but he turns up K-10-off. Yes, this from the UTG raiser. Fuck K-K and these loose morons. Must the junky trips card always be out? And who the hell caps with K-10x?? (CT: 780)

0320: I limp with 2-2. Six players see the flop, which comes 4-7-6. Fold. Cat evicted. Damn thing's shedding anyhow. (CT: 680)

0322: I dump 5-5 from UTG+1. I'm seeing tons of PP's --- but can't win with any of them. I have had, mildly put, luckier runs.

0323: Time for my second and last rebuy, not counting my add-on coming up at the break. I normally don't even go past one re-buy, but it's a treat for this first-time tourney recap, which already seems like a tourney from hell. I bet you don't think I've got the guts to write and post this crap, do you? (CT: 2,180)

0332: Time for my add-on at the break. (CT: 3,455; do or die) A puke-y 96th of 124 before the add-on, out of 195 entrants.

0335: Pee break. Thought you should know!

0337: Hee-hee! I win the first hand after the break when it's folded around to me in the small blind. I bet it with a paired J at the river (despite an A and K also on the board) since the BB has done nothing. Turns out he wasn't even connected, so the auto-fold brings it home to me. Good thing I didn't check it through! (CT: 3,605)

0340: Wow: A-A. LeDiable raise in front of me, of course, and caps it behind; we've got a third player as well. The flop comes a scary Q-J-9 with two hearts. Diable bets (again of course), I raise, and the the third player cold-calls behind me. Diable 3-bets, and I cap it because he's shown me a manic approach: he'll re-raise on a bottom pair, a joker, the little "poker odds" card that's always left behind in the deck box... anything. The third player isn't as loose as these other crazies so his two cold-calls to cap on the flop are far more of a concern.

Did I mention that the blinds had jumped to 100/200? It's a big hand for me, to say the least. Sure enough, the J turn on the river spells doom for my rockets, and I'm stuck making the crying call with over 6,000 in the pot. A small consolation: the cold-calling dude was all-in, and he's no surprise for me in turning over the third jack. (CT: 1,030). Don't care no more. At least LeDiable crashed out in the process with his pair of Q's, small consolation. What a wonderful run: AA, KK, KK and KK... and 0-for-4 on the batch. Plus a 10-10 and 9-9 I didn't mention earlier. I believe I've caught 9 pocket pairs in a hair over an hour and lost all nine, seeing a flop seven times. And I've been sucked down for bonus chips throughout by a couple of manic morons.

0345: A freeroll window opens; I'm already registered for it. Can I play two tables --- one fixed, one no-limit --- and write this all at once? We'll see! Stuff like 6-4, 4-9, 7-2 makes it easy for a while. The overnight freerolls are always like the translation of "Tora, Tora, Tora": Dive, Dive, Dive! But Prima freerolls are good money, too --- I took second in one a week earlier for $120. I've made the final table six times in two months.

0348: I'm all-in with K-Q-off and a Q comes on the flop. My challenger had sixes, so I doubled through. (CT: 1,760)

0349: Over in the freeroll, I dive in with 9-9 for my 1,000 chips from middle position... just because I'm on total tilt. Naturally, I'm cold-called by a suited J-10 on the all-in. And of course, the J comes on the flop. It's a good sotto voce lesson on tilting, not to mention going all-in on middle pairs, the moron call from that player notwithstanding. But whatcha gonna do when the cards run cold? At least I can type the rest of my notes on this fiasco at my leisure.

0353: I flip-flop the position of the table and WordPad windows on my terminal. That'll change my luck!

0354: I miss the BB when the player to my right crashes out! But my SB hand demands a limp, then a fold when I again utterly -whiffff- on the flop. So I only save a SB.

0355: I limp in with Qh-10c on the button, one of three to see the flop, which is 9-7-5, all hearts. My semi-bluff at the scare board takes down a mini-pot (CT: 1,910). 87th out of 90 and on the move!

0358: Two of the three manic LAGs at our table are gone now, though Loose_Lars lives on. The truth is, terrible flops aside, a chunk of my drop is attributable to the increased variance caused by their wild play. I was caught in the backwash, so to speak. In the long run, I'm guaranteed to do well against these players, but this tournament ain't the long run.

0403: 400 chips lost on a dead BB. (CT: 1,510)

0406: And all-in on a final 9-9 that gets neatly ironed out by a flopped king; with big slick on the button he'd re-raised me, and I'd capped the pre-flop 3-bet with damned little to lose. (What I had, I lost.) In summary, I was utterly doomed by my 0-for-10 on pocket pairs, including four that were still overpairs post-flop. I placed 82nd of 195... my worst finish ever in this event. I really hate poker right now.

SITE REVIEW - TITAN POKER

Titan Poker is, I believe, the second largest of the iPoker skins, following Noble Poker. This review is as much a review of the iPoker gaming engine as of Titan itself, but since I don't plan on visiting Noble again, and Noble is very similar to Titan, this is what you get. Deal with it.

Titan is one of those sites that I'm happy to have tried, but cannot wait to leave. "Why not leave now?" you might ask. Well, heh. That's one of the problems. Caveat emptor, gentle reader, caveat emptor. That's "Let the buyer beware," in case you weren't in a remembering state of mind right now. The iPoker skins are known for their generous sign-up bonuses, but these bonuses can be misleading in ways different than you might think. Speaking of thinking, think this will be a less-than-gushing review? You think right, Grasshoppah --- now go snatch a dime from someone else's palm.

Let's cut to the chase. If you are seduced by those overly large bonuses, tread carefully: You'll find them much harder to obtain than the published table-rate figures might lead you to believe. The reason for this is that iPoker lacks the table traffic to support the number of tables you'd like to play at the stakes you find comfortable. Suppose you're a hacker like me, typically playing anything from .50/1 to 2/4 fixed-limit. At off hours, you might not find a full-ring game, or at most find one or two, among the various levels. There might be a couple of short-handed games going, and perhaps something at no-limit as well. But you're not going to get the volume that you need to make those hefty bonus rates pay off; you're not even going to come close.

Toss in software that's clunky, slow and brutal, plus a couple of other lovely little treats I'll return to in a bit, and this one's a dog. Stay away. Yes, the competition is softer here than at other sites, but it's like Pacific --- the competition is softer because the site is poor, and most of the more competent players have fled for saner pastures.

I've seen a commercial or two for iPoker skins, and they invariably try to sell the high bonuses and slick software... "state of the art graphics" is a phrase you'll hear accompanied by a 3-D rendition showing some of the site's table avatars. Well, get it straight: the avatars ain't numerous and they ain't great --- FullTilt plays that tune a whole heap better.

Could we hope that the software then excels in functionality? Well, we could hope that, yes we could. But our hopes would be false. The software is clunky and slow, and multi-table switching ranges from hesitant and sluggish on newer computers to FuggidAbouDit-UBeenTimedOut on older clunkers. Another huge flaw occurs in the no-limit betting choices, but this one will take a bit more explaining:

When one begins to learn no-limit, one of the first things one learns is the concept of the Standard Raise. It's three times (3x) the big blind or the most recent bet. It's evolved over time as the optimal balance between smaller raises that encourage unwanted action from speculative hands hoping to see a cheap flop, and overbets that freeze out the type of second-best opponents one would rather keep around. Understand that one doesn't always make a standard raise, but it's frequently the best option, right?

Well, iPoker's software designers, demonstrating their deep understanding of the game (and yes, I'm being sarcastic), set up their sliding-scale bet programming so it jumps from 1x to 2x to 4x, 6x and beyond, skipping the classic standard raise. The only way to do a standard raise is to do the math, then manually type in the number into the raise field, then tab that bet into play. Other bet rheostats occasionally have problems, particularly when one acquires a large stack early, relative to the size of the blinds. But none of the others I've tried are as badly designed as iPoker's.

Another oddity --- and to my way of thinking, a large negative --- occurs in R&A ("Rebuy and Add-On) tourneys. All other sites I've played allow a rebuy to take place as soon one's chip level falls below the tourney starting point, which could typically be 1,500 chips. But on iPoker, one can't rebuy until that player's chip stack reaches zero. What a disincentive! If a player takes a big loss that reduces the size of his chip stack to, say, 400 chips, that player has to consider dumping those 400 chips and starting over, particularly if the blinds are due to go up in another couple of minutes. That's flat-out dumb, and it might even promote collusion under a perfect set of circumstances.

The litany goes on, of course, but it all boils down to a basic truth: iPoker's designers and financiers care a lot more about enabling themselves to snare some online gambling commerce then they are in taking care of their customers' needs. That's damning indeed. So it doesn't matter if it's as important as a woefully inadequate note-taking function that provides space barely large enough to hold a phone number, much less info on how one's opponents play, or as frivolous as the oversized chat ballons that obscure and distract from the table action. It's all just symptoms of the same disease.

But I'm used to seeing things like this, particularly in an era when new sites are springing up by the week. What finally galled me, though, was the discovery that the money I'd deposited --- in terms of the original amount --- was non-withdrawable until I'd played the amount of hands neede to clear the related bonus. In other words, given the lack of table action and software so balky that the entire site has shut down for unscheduled maintenance on multiple occasions, I'll get my money back when hell freezeth over. So let my misfortune be your fair warning: Stay away from iPoker and any of its skins. They offer oversixed bonuses that are made from smoke and mirrors, and they have no intention of letting you get out of their system with your bankroll whole and hearty. Caveat emptor, indeed.




"We Didn't Say Those Numbers Actually Mean Anything..."

There I was, playing a handful of Maui Sit-'N'-Go's, hoping to win five straight and capture the $50,000 (or whatever) jackpot prize for doing so. And winning a couple, here and there, and doing the same with a few Dirty Dozen and Rio jackpot games as well.

Funny thing... all the games and hand numbers on iPoker sites always end in "0." There's nothing wrong with this, per se, unless you believe that the hand and game numbers are an accurate measure of a site's history and size. That's right, friends and neighbors: By adding a simple "0" to all such numbers, iPoker gives the impression that they've dealt ten times as many games as they actually have.

Dishonest? Aye, that's a hair that needs splitting. Just because it's a "hand number" doesn't necessarily mean that it's a "hand count." As you can tell, my impressions of this site are largely negative, so for me it's just one more small reason to flee elsewhere at the earliest opportunity. There's something about iPoker that leaves me feeling uneasy. On that I'll say no more.

SITE REVIEW - ROYAL VEGAS POKER (Prima Skin)

(Author's Note: A more recent entry on Royal Vegas Poker appears lower on the page -- hh)

Royal Vegas is one of the largest and most well-known of the myriad Prima Poker Network skins. To my mind it's also one of the most dependable and trustworthy. You'll get the usual interface to the core Prima software here, bringing with it all the plusses and minuses that you'd expect from Prima-based play. Royal Vegas's overlay is colored royal blue... like it'd be a surprise if it was anything else.

A standard disclaimer: Examining the differences between competing Prima skins boils down to looking at the bonus and promotional programs, plus customer service. Royal Vegas's stadard signup offers are among the better ones to be found, but, depending on which you choose, can take an excessive amount of time and raked hands to clear. Mine netted me $300, but required 6,000 raked hands within a month. Made it (barely)! Other offers require less intense effort, with correspondingly lower rewards.

Royal Vegas doesn't offer much at the present time for reload offers, though they may have some rakeback programs --- I'm still learning about this part of the game. I'll update this area if and when I learn more.

So how does Royal Vegas achieve customer retention --- assuming they do? They work on the loyalty angle, with occasional larger freerolls (above those offered daily at Prima), plus incentives such as their $40,000 Points program, which pays cash to their 1,500 most loyal users on a monthly basis. Not bad at all --- yet it would take full time, multiple-table play (and then some) for any given solid month to get up to the big bucks in this program; in the month that most closely matched to my signup-offer push, I placed approximately 200th in usage points, and earned (I believe) something like $30. It's an appreciated, nice little extra, and has to be weighed against what reload programs offer elsewhere.

Customer service at Royal Vegas is about as good as could be expected, given that Prima apparantly has no cross-network tools allowing their affiliate skins to calculate and pay earned bonuses in real-time. As with any of the Prima skins, bonuses are manually calculated and paid, and that always slows down the process. Yet I've found Royal Vegas payouts to be consistent at either two or three days, with two the most often occurrence. I may have received a couple of next-day payments, too, which is definitely ahead of the standard Prima curve.

At the present time I'm not playing a lot at Royal Vegas, but I expect that to be a temporary thing; I've been moving around and sampling many sites as I learn more and more about the online poker world. So we'll give Royal Vegas a solid passing grade: it's worth giving the occasional action here.




And more on Royal Vegas Poker? Sure enough! I'd like to toss in some kudos to RVP for putting on their "Expert Series" tournaments, available every Wednesday evening here in the States. Seven pro poker players put their heads on the block in this bounty-style tournament, with cash bonuses and merchandise awarded for knocking out any of the seven. The biggest names are site host/poker author Lou Krieger and three-time WSOP bracelet winner Barbara Enright, but all seven are solid and seasoned pros with major poker credits to their names.

I'd known about the Expert Series tournaments from my first days on RVP, but hadn't tried them until last month (December of 2005). Frankly, I didn't want to embarrass myself against competition of this level, clearly several steps up from my game. This despite the tournament's very affordable buy-ins --- a $20 + $2 initial entry, and $10 re-buys and add-ons.

It turns out I needn't have worried; I've been able to compete and survive here, if not exactly thrive, proof again that you never know about something until you do try it and see for yourself. Yes, fate smiled, too. I made a hilariously improbable run to a 3rd-place finish in my first try, followed it up with a couple of cashes, and though I'm not in the same class as these seven or a few of the other veterans that show up for the weekly fun, it's still an invariably rewarding experience each and every time. The pros are open, easy to chat with, and this is just flat-out an incredible poker value for an everyday type of player. One of the most astonishing things I've discovered is that this tournament usually finishes with an overlay --- the prize pool exceeds the total entry fees paid. Having played this for nearly three months (as of this updated reposting), I find it flabbergasting.

Recommending to any of you that are reading this to join in might make that overlay go away. I don't care; this is too good a tournament for other reasons than to allow RVP to get rid of the thing on a financial technicality. (Not that they're planning to --- this is just a fer-instance.) So join in, and be prepared for a friendlier and more open atmosphere than you'll encounter in almost any other tourney --- only the PokerStars' Blogger Championship and the weekly Wil Wheaton tourney come close... and you don't get the big-name exposure there that the Expert Series offers.

Kudos, I say, kudos all around. RVP uses this as a promotional tool, not a money maker, and they need to know that it is appreciated by those of us who've given it a whirl. And the seven pros deserve their own kudos for participating in a tournament that's almost certainly not worth their while in financial terms (whether they're receiving any participation fees or not). If they are, then RVP's financial investment is even heavier, and is duly noted.

As for me, I try to behave. Lou Krieger deserves personal thanks from me for other reasons, and both Barb Enright and Matt Lessinger have been fun and open table opponents as well. The other pros I've had only brief exposure to, but they are clearly a friendly and open bunch.

SITE REVIEW - THE GAMING CLUB POKER ROOM (Prima Skin)

Now here's a site that I won't have anything to do with any longer: The Gaming Club Poker Room [often abbreviated TGC]. Customer service is extremely poor here, the promotions poorly explained and containing hidden catches, and in sum, it's just not worth the hassle. TGC is part of the Belle Rock Gaming family, which also includes the River Belle and Lucky Nugget poker houses. The three sites are closely tied together, so accepting a promotional offer or participating in a program on one of the three sites precludes you from a similar other on one of the others. I'd say don't bother: Go ahead and skip all three.

As a mostly unabashed poker whore (though I do play on my preferred sites, regardless of offers), I decided to give TGC a tumble. I signed up through one of their packages, having been promised a cumulative bonus of $300 if I accumulated enough raked-hands action at various levels. Immediately upon making my deposit I had some twinges of concern: The sign-up process did not match the instructions given to put the promised bonus into effect.

That said, my original doubts seemed unwarranted: I was indeed registered into the intended bonus program. However, it stands in retrospect as an early indicator of the later and larger problems I would encounter.

I went ahead and began chopping off sections of the bonus, playing my favorite, the low-risk fixed-limit games at $0.50/1.00, $1.00/2.00, and $2.00/$4.00. On occassion I noted the receipt of an e-mail notifying me that I had earned a $20 chunk of my bonus, and on occasion --- but not always at the same time --- I noticed that my bankroll had indeed been incremented upward.

Now, what happens when a new promotional program is implemented by a site? Traditionally, one of two things happen: either (1) the original promotional terms remain in effect; or (2) the participant is "grandfathered" into the new program. TGC's new program involved --- still involves --- as this is written --- the awarding of a $50 bonus for playing at least 350 raked hands at a high level: $1.00/$2.00 for pot- and no-limit, and $2.00/$4.00 for fixed.

Was I eligible? Well, one would think so; not only was the program presented to me in a customized front-page promotional blurb, but there was also a customized counter for that promotion, counting exactly how many hands I had played. Direct incentive to keep playing those higher-limit hands, right?

As an aside, note the following: this bonus was much more difficult to clear than it seems. The Prima Network has a dearth of action at higher levels of fixed-limit play; perhaps half the time, there wasn't even a full-table 2/4 game to be found. But plug away I did. I cleared my 350 raked hands, and then the front-page screen changed, per TGC's custom-for-user front-page programming: The new front-page replaced the counter with a link to a page that allowed me to submit a form for claim processing through TGC's customer service department.

So I did... and waited... and waited... and waited some more. And after several days, I contacted TGC's customer service in a separate e-mail to find out what was up.

TGC responded thusly --- that I was ineligible for the promotion because I had not made a deposit during their special promotion period. Of course, I had checked the promotional fine print: if a notice of required deposit was there, I couldn't find it. I was then reminded to check their ToC and note the part where it said "only one promotion per customer, original rules apply,..." --- blah-de-blah-blah. Sure enough, that was there, but so was the counterbalancing entry: [TGC] reserves the right to end, begin or replace promotions at any time. That's paraphrased, not quoted.

To make a long story short, TGC denied my bonus but never bothered to notify me of the denial, let alone why, until long after my followup contact --- and their reasons as to "why" continuing evolving to this day. When I learned of the denial, I asked them why their programming would show me customized content showing me my continued eligibilty and progress, if they never had any intention of paying it to begin with. Then the TGC programmers entered the fray.

Lordy, the bullshit started running deeper and deeper, beginning with the standard spew about how they had never, ever received any reports of a programming error of this nature. That's the standard first line of defense for any programming-error issue; it's sort of the modern version of the classic "Bed Bug" letter that marked railroad travel (and complaints) of the 19th century. But back to TGC. The person who contacted me (not the first, at this point!) had also sent instructions on how to do a screen grab, informing me that I needed to send them a screen grab of the original front-page screen showing the promotion and raked-hands information, so they could properly investigate.

I try to maintain professional dignity when conducting e-mails, but I lost it at this. I pointed out to the programmer that his code had changed after I cleared the 350 raked hands, making that code inaccessible and unviewable at this time. I also pointed out the obvious: that if he actually understood how his own code worked and updated itself, he wouldn't have made, as I put it, such "a fucking moronic request".

As long as I was on a roll, I went ahead and blasted away concerning other specifics of some of the earlier e-mails we traded. One point had to do with the administration of the bonus chunks I had previously been paid. This respondent claimed that I had been awarded seven (7) separate $20 bonus payments; I checked the "Poker" folder of my e-mail (I keep all that stuff), and found exactly three (3) corresponding notices.

The response was, essentially, that since some of the $20 bonuses were processed concurrently, separate notices were not sent. Are you kidding me, Gaming Club? The mind reels. I play multiple tables at any hour of the day --- I never know exactly how much is in my bankroll (though I have a darned good approximation in my head) at any given moment. I need those notices to help me keep track of my progress, both toward a given bonus and of my bankroll in general. Or is the admittedly intentional omission of notices a part of this crappy site's business plan, too? Perhaps they'll induce more unnecessary and unwarranted table action by "forgetting" to send out timely notifications on goal-oriented achievements?

Understand this, too: TGC processes no withdrawal requests or bonus payouts with undue haste. The minimum I've seen is slightly under 72 hours, and the maximum is... err... open to interpretation.

Well, anyhow, I told them I was withdrawing my bankroll, and told them I'd be heading off for safer, more truthful pastures. I've received two e-mails since then, each reaffirming that even though their programming may have been in error, I was still ineligible for the $50 bonus as promoted. They also apologized, etcetera, etcetera. Tough boobies.

I accepted the apology from the respondent on a personal basis, but said that as far as TGC, in general, was concerned, they could still go to hell. I don't do business with firms that don't step up and acceptable the responsibility and consequences of their own actions. This despite the fact that even by their own calculations, I'm still due at least one more $20 bonus payment. I'm not holding my damn breath....

Heh. I could tell you about the "Happy Hour" promotion that guarantees that winners will be announced "in the software," but doesn't, yet at some point it becomes a matter of beating a dead horse to death just because you like the sound of flies buzzing. TGC's programming, promotions and customer-service departments appear to operate quite independently of one another. This is part of a general business recipe: just sprinkle with cluelessness and watch the disaster unfold, like too-yeasty bread dough oozing over the sides of the pan.

The Gaming Club Poker Room and (by extension) Belle Rock Gaming should be avoided. You can find similar offers elsewhere, as well as action on the Prima Network, if that's your preference. But use your head: Don't reward a company's inept business practices and bad behavior with your good money.

Or as I said to TGC...

Finis.

SITE REVIEW - BET365 POKER (Prima Skin)

Then there's Bet365poker, a multi-action betting destination whose poker portion seems to be on a rising arc within the greater arc of the Prima Poker family. Bet365 is an aggressive, flashy player: it does about as much as can be expected with its overlay of the standard Prima game engine, with one of the nicest graphic packages and cleanest looks it can derive.

Our standard disclaimer applies: Examining the differences between competing Prima skins usually boils down to looking at the bonus and promotional programs, plus customer service. Bet365' basically has only one signup offer, although it allows most new customers to add $50 to their bankroll with relative ease. If you have bankroll concerns --- who doesn't? --- this pushes Bet365 quite high on the list of new sites to visit; the quick access to a bonus $50 gives you a safety margin to work against if your poker skills aren't as sharp as you'd like. And if your poker skills are good? Guess you just made fifty smackeroos, sharky.

Bet365 is a hit-and-git venture for the most hardcore of the poker whores; since they have traditionally had no reload offers of note, these players tend to flee quickly for greener pastures. However, Bet365 has recently introduced some retention programs that should increase their customer loyalty, including an attractive offer (September '05) that just netted this Bet365 customer an extra $100. Frankly, I'm glad I gave them a chance and kept giving them some action --- they rewarded my loyalty quite generously.

Bet365 also tosses in some nice freerolls, including a weekly $5,000 giveaway that requires nothing more than an active and open account, and a monthly $25,000 freeroll that requires only 250 qualifying raked hands (easy to do) in the previous calendar month. This is on top of the already generous base Prima freerolls. I always find time to play a few laps on Bet365; you should think about it, too.

Customer service? I'd rate it as average-to-above-average among the Prima skins. A mild complaint has to do with withdrawal processing: Since this is done manually and typically includes a two- or three-day wait, it would be nice if when they do get around to processing and paying your withdrawal, they could send you an automated e-mail telling you it's been sent. But no payment happens instantly; as with any of the Prima skins, all the bonuses are also manually calculated and paid, which places pressure on customer-support people as requests fluctuate. Still, Bet365 has an acceptable, if not speedy, turnaround.

(Author's note: I need to add an addendum here --- Bet365's cashout services have been much improved, and I've had a couple that were processed instantaneously. That's just downright excellent.)

Give 'em a try. Maybe you'll cash in, cash out, move on, drop some acid --- I believe the author has just dated herself on that one. (Your humble author has never dropped acid, by the way.) Bet365 gets a passing grade: stop on in.

SITE REVIEW - PRIMA POKER

Familiar with the Prima site, that online house of many skins? (Note: If you don't know what a "skin" is, you're behind the curve. Check out some of the major online info or bonus-whoring sites for more, and for reviews on the few Prima skins that I've played, click on the associated link on the right.)

The core of the online poker engine that defines Prima comes to the user via any of the following, each a skin that connects (by way of a software overlay) to the core software engine that is the backbone of the Prima Poker Network. These skins include Royal Vegas, Bet365, The Gaming Club, Aztec Riches, Expekt, and on, and on, ad infinitum. Each of these skins has the same core look and functionality, though each dresses up the game engine with its own distinctive color scheme and a unique package of bonus offers. Chances are you know this. Despite the wide variety of access routes -- meaning these skins -- the traffic isn't huge at Prima. Peak hours skew toward European users as much as any of the major sites, perhaps excepting the Crypto family, though there's still a strong North American base most times of the day. Game selection is no better than average.

By way of explaining, Prima offers a standard mix of game and wage choices, though much of it is a mirage: I've played over 10,000 hands here, and I'll opine that 90% or more of the traffic is your plain ol' everyday run-o'-the-mill hold-'em player. Omaha, 7-Stud, and 5-Stud are offered --- (Hi/Lo) on both the Omaha and 7-Stud, too --- but the problem is that there's seldom a selection of active games actually being played. There's nothing like Razz or Pineapple here, and one can't blame Prima: If their theoretically more popular game choices go so underutilized, why should they program for the tiny niches?

General Prima plusses? There are several. First, Prima offers a wide variety of generous sign-up and reload offers through its various skins. Pick and choose as you wish; I started with Royal Vegas, a solid starting point. However, be sure to read the fine print: Some of these sites carry hidden baggage, such as the only-once-per-month withdrawal options on Bet365 and Aztec Riches, or the fact that many of the offers only kick in above certain play levels, often $0.50/1 for NL and $2/4 for fixed. (These tend to be more of an issue from one skin to the next, and will be dealt with in those reviews as applicable.) Yet overall, the cutoff values needed for bonus-carving expose a general Prima problem, at least for fixed-limit players: There are times when one would like to work to clear said bonus, but no game is currently being played, anywhere on Prima, at that limit or higher. Such is life when you're not the biggest kid on the block.

Second, you'll find the occasionally lucrative freebies on Prima more common --- and more lucrative, all told --- than anywhere else. Prima's freerolls, in whole, are second to none: There is actually enough money in these to be worth playing as often as possible. And Prima tosses in things like bad-beat jackpots (relatively low thresholds and frequent payouts), a daily high-hand jackpot (so call down with that made royal, ya doof!), and my favorite, a "Magic Hand" jackpot of $2,500 awarded to a table every 4,000,000th hand. That sounds impregnable, but with a little bit of play you'll learn when that jackpot is awarded: Your odds of sharing in it, if seated and active, might be better than 1 in 500 when that magic hand rolls around. And as the recipient of $156 from one lucky sit-down, I should know!

Third, the mini-screens, found only here and (I believe) at UltimateBet, are to my mind one of the nicest online innovations we've seen. Once you've adapted to the look, rest assured that not only will it be easier, compared to other sites, to keep tabs on two or more tables; you'll also take accidental betting actions less frequently, due to the lack of screen overlaps.

Fourth, chat is more tightly monitored here than on any other major site. I see this as a plus. I detest unpatrolled sites where the chat window becomes a penis-wagging contest with layers upon layers of curses inflicted upon the other players, varying from raw anger to the cheapest possible attempt at intimidation. Nice try, suckers; I don't like it but I don't tilt from it, either. (Even worse, by the way, is a site like Crypto where you can't even easily turn the crap off.) Chat should be for the enjoyment --- read: added entertainment value --- of the players, not allowed to devolve to the lowest common denominator of human communications. Hear that, Pacific?

Minuses? As mentioned, the action isn't as diverse as it seems, and there's a strong emphasis here on shorthanded games. That last may be a plus to an action junkie, but moi, tight and conservative player that aye izz, prefers to settle into the flow of a more traditional 9- or 10-handed game. Also, Prima and its component skins do go overboard on the software updates, often as much on the front-end wrapping paper as on the game functionality itself. Prima's a bit of the HotDog HTML editor of online poker sites; perhaps it's a directive to site programmers, to be able to prove that they are indeed Doing Something! (As an aside, I gave up on HotDog years ago, when that site's overhauls were more frequent than my visits ... and I was a business user. Damn better things to do than re-navigate a site every three weeks when my paid-for macros weren't even integrated properly. So there, you pack of over-geeky Aussies, take that! Grrr.)

But Prima's not that bad ... yet ... though the Labor Day '05 "upgrade" seems a bit of the opposite: my old boat-anchor/computer now seems incapable of running three tables at once, though it could before. (Reports from other users indicate that Prima's current programming has a significant memory leak, causing users' computers to run slower the longer they're in active use.) Worse, an ordinary computer now hangs and lags with only two tables in play, simply unacceptable for me. I've had freezes of 30 seconds or longer in recent weeks, resulting in auto-folds and other worse-than-death horrors. One hopes that Prima and other sites write their software to be servicable for the majority of computer users, rather than only those running the latest high-end machines. After all, obsolescence is so ugly down here in the "charity" bracket.

Cashing in, cashing out: Average to slightly slow, with a larger degree of variance than I've found elsewhere. Bonus payouts are erratic from one skin to the next, depending, one supposes, on the current workload of that skin's customer-service staff... or dedication to customer service in general. The vast majority of payouts are manually processed and paid, which explains some of the lag and occasional oversights. One irritant is that withdrawals are processed through a separate server (per each skin's own financial setup), which is, on occasion, inscrutably inaccessible. Despite this, your bankroll amount is always available, always up-to-date ... if you know how to do it. Hint: It's often easier to view your bankroll by pretending to join a table than by actually visiting the banking area. Weird, huh?

Having fun: Lots of low-entry tournaments here. Plenty of sit-'n'-go action, and even "rounders" and "Monte Carlo" formats for the adventurous. Good stuff, though bad beats in a rounders tourney suck even worse than they do in freezeouts, for some reason. Though the chat is actively monitored, on occasion the table censors get overzealous [see sidebar at lower right]. Most of these poor, bored POKERMGR-assigned souls are reasonably cool, however, and they can occasionally be baited into joining a conversation. Thus, typeth this: "Hey, all, do you know how to make a POKERMGR go crazy?"

Prima allows each player to complete their own "Player Profile," with options to upload a photo and a handful of boring information nuggets, but most players don't, and most of those that do don't have anything important to say. A nice idea, plus points for the effort, but hardly a necessity.




Valium Needed --- Ha-a-a-lp!!

In net lingo, LOL. As noted in the main review, Prima's site operators are by far the most proactive when it comes to policing the user chat taking place on their system. Among the no-no's are cussin', sellin' stuff, advertisin' othah sites, and speakin' in tongues --- that being anything other than English. I watched someone get their chat priveleges revoked simply for sassing back to the POKERMGR (the Prima operator who monitors saveral tables at once) in Swedish. Well, okay... maybe being called a "lutefisk heinie" is grounds for suspension.

That said, on occasion the POKERMGRs do go above and beyond and beyond and beyond some more. The following is a re-creation of an exchange between me, a couple of other players, and the POKERMGR in charge of monitoring our chat one moonlit evening in late August, 2005. Dialogue is paraphrased, not quoted, but if Prima sent me the chat log, I'd be most happy to reproduce it verbatim; it would not vary in amy meaningful way from what you'll see below. I've also omitted junk such as the hand summaries, to ease your boredom:

Player A: I was checking out some reviews on that (poker-related topic) yesterday.
Player B: Yes, I try keeping notes on things and putting them on my site.
Player A: Where's it at?
Me: What's the address?
Player B: It's at www.billfillmaff.com.
POKERMGR: Please refrain from advertising or your chat priveleges may be suspended.
Me: POKERMGR, get a clue. You have know way of knowing whether that's a commercial site or not.
Player B: It's not. I don't sell anything there. I own the site.

[short lapse of a hand or so here]

Player A: Yeah, I was on Party the other day and it was crazy wild.
Me: If you want low variance, Party can drive you absolutely nuts.
Player B: Yup
POKERMGR: Please refrain from advertising or your chat priveleges may be suspended.
Me: Please read for content, POKERMGR. If you read what we typed, you would clearly see that it wasn't advertising.
POKERMGR: When we see the word party typed, it usually refers to another poker site.
Me: Indeed it did --- but we were not talking about that site in a positive way.
POKERMGR: We do not allow either positive or negative advertising. (Methinks: What in the hell is "negative advertising"?!?!?)
Me: I guess we can tell each other "Nice hand" and ask how the weather is?
POKERMGR: That would be fine, yes.
Me: That was sarcasm, POKERMGR.

Funny thing, POKERMGR went silent after that. :-)

SITE REVIEW - POKER STARS

Already familiar with Poker Stars? No doubt it's one of the biggees, currently #2 in terms of cash players. And with the recent turmoil at Party Poker (as I write this, just shy of Halloween 2005), Stars has its sights set squarely on #1.

But Poker Stars wasn't the first site I joined, nor the second... heck, it wasn't even the fifth. Part of this had to do my online poker needs: when I decided to get "serious" about my game, I started with a whoppin' $90 bankroll, which I needed to protect as well as I could. That meant I needed to go after some sign-up bonuses, and I needed to stay away from tournaments, for the most part, at least early on.

And that meant no PokerStars.

Let's clarify this a bit: I am not saying that if you're an online poker newbie, you need to stay away from Stars. For instance, at this writing, Stars does have a sign-up bonus (25% for most deposits), yet it's far from the most generous in the industry. And though Stars also has a goodly selection of ring games (the safest avenue for clearing said bonuses), Stars is, first and foremost, a tournament site. Over 1,000 of the players competing in the main event of the 2005 WSOP earned their way in through a Poker Stars satellite event, or approximately 20% of the total entries for that main event. That's a standout number. And it points to the structure and aim of PokerStars itself, an aim which wasn't mine when I first started out, and might not be yours, either.

It doesn't make Stars a bad site, you see. Stars is actually a good site, one of the best there is. But if you're just starting out and learning how to play, then the best advice is to get your feet wet elsewhere, then come on to Stars; the action here is tougher than on the majority of the largest sites, and without a healthy sign-on bonus as a backboard, your investment would be more in peril. As for me, I was successful in building my bankroll elsewhere, so when I signed up here, my online-poker life wasn't on the line. I've made a little money here, too, so all is well. I live. I breathe. I play a little poker.

Back to Stars. Since their forte is their tournament offerings, you might expect that their ring-game offerings might be a relatively weaker aspect. You would be correct in that assumption. It's not that the ring games at Stars are bad (they're not), it's just that the available selection is limited and unordinary. You get Hold-'Em, Omaha, and 7-Stud, with fixed-limit, pot-limit and no-limit for the first two, and fixed only for the stud games. And in non-peak hours, you might even have trouble in 7-Stud or Omaha finding a game at your most favored stakes. Okay. I am legion; I can adapt.

As for tournaments, though, Stars really shines. You'll find everything here, from major daily "guarantee" events to satellites and supers, from $1 cheapies up to the stuff where the really big boys play. One aside: skip the freerolls, and use your accumulated FPP points for other things (read: merchandise); the freerolls are a horrible investment of your time, relative to the expected payback you might receive.

At first glance, one gets the impression that they're aren't a lot of low-limit tournaments at Stars. But they're there all right; they're just been restructed as multi-table Sit-'N'-Go events, and are found in the plethora of choices available there. Stars, you see, is the hands-down Sit-'N'-Go champ of web poker, both in number and choices of offerings; there ain't no need to even worry about who comes in second. In addition to the regular stuff, including virtually any combination of buy-in amount and seats per table, you'll find that what shows up as a smallish regular tournament elsewhere often plays as a larger SNG here.

You also find tournament formats seldom offered elsewhere. Shootouts are one example, which function something like a Euro "rounders" tournament. Essentially, shootouts are multi-layer SNG tourneys; if you win your first table, you pocket a little something and go on to the next level. The higher you climb, the more you make. Unlike a "rounders" tourney, however, there is no fallback from a higher level if you come in 2nd or 3rd at a table at that point. Win or die, sweetie, scale your catch or be filleted.

Did you ever notice how some sites offer 10-seated action, and others offer 9? (Yes, this is excepting the aggressive 6-table stuff, I know.) Well, as with Party, Stars offers both 9- and 10-seat full-ring games, though their tournaments are --- as far as I've ever seen --- exclusively 9-seat deals.

Hmmm. Software... time to check in on that. Poker Stars has, in the vernacular, gotten their shit together. Not only does their software work, it works whether you've got one table going or several. It doesn't go into spastic flipflops when two or more tables simultaneous require action, as happens on Party, and all the little bells and trinkets work not only as advertised, but as the user hopes and wants them to. Heaven forbid: It seems like the techno-geeks and the idea guys actually Worked Together in assembling the Stars software package, which means that they consider your money (and their efforts to obtain their share of it, for providing the playing venue), a serious matter indeed.

One of the neat little trinkets worth mentioning is that each player can upload a small image to serve as their avatar. That's been done elsewhere, too, but only on Stars can other players block that image if they find it offensive... or, more likely... too stupid to warrant repeated attention from the peepers. Which brings me to an aside that has precious little to do with this review.

When you're 20 or 25, you do things to make the world look at you, just because you enjoy the attention. When you're 45, you look at the people doing those stupid things, and you understand that behind the attention-getting behavior is a simple lack of maturity. (You don't worry, you don't scold, unless the immature sort is the rare type who not fished for your attention, but also confronts you and demands that you give it to him. Then there are other options and concerns.) Some people actually force the confrontations as a way of receiving attention, because they're addicted to the attention itself; notorious examples within the poker world are Mike Matusow and Phil Hellmuth. But I look at someone like Hellmuth, and all I see is a man who likes like he's never had decent sex in his life. And yes, I know he's married... to a psychiatrist. Then I see Matusow, and all I can think is... "Bubba."

Heh. Back to our regularly scheduled review.

Poker Stars' decision to allow avatar-image blocking is simply a victory for and an acknowledgement of maturity. I like it. Thank you, Stars, the gesture is appreciated.

Stars' software, in total, receives the highest marks across the board. In reviewing my notes, I cannot find a single instance wherein something appears or works counter-intuitively, or where a major aspect of expected site functionality is nowhere to be found. Table selection, betting action --- it's all good, here, all professional. They've got me stumped, frankly; I'd like to point at something and shout a big "GOTCHA!!"... but I can't.

Cashing in and cashing out are slick and solid, too. The usual gamut of deposit options are available, and my test withdrawal occurred smoothly and appeared back in my online bank within 48 hours, an acceptable turnaround, especially considering the first-transaction status.

Finally, Stars is a "happening" venue --- you'll find that a lot of special events and private tournaments are held here as well. The customer support is top-notch, as is the direct feedback between players and the site's operators and designers. If they could add another 10% of fishes to the poker-playin' population it'd be Nirvana, but then again, one can't have everything.

Poker Stars gets one of this site's highest overall ratings. The only slight imperfections are the narrowness of the ring-game offerings and the relatively meager bonus offerings. One wishes that the action was a little weaker, but one always wishes for that, regardless --- it's hardly Poker Stars' fault. It's not a site recommended as the first place to play if you're on a meager budget and just learning the game, but it is a site worth ongoing play.

And so we will.

SITE REVIEW - PARTY POKER

(Author's note: The following review was written prior to the recent software revamp at Party. Nonetheless, this review was designed to entertain, and the majority of its points still apply --- hh)

Here's the 900-lb. gorilla of online poker sites, Party Poker. I played here several years ago for a short while, when they first came upon the scene, then returned here only recently. What does one compare Party Poker to: Wonder Bread? Wal-Mart? One-size-fits-all-wet-weather-ponchos? Any and all of these are correct.

True to the commercials, you can always find a game at Party, and you can almost always find one (or many) at your limits and options of choice.

Party offers a comprehensive assortment of limit levels, though only the usual assortment of poker games: Hold-'Em, Omaha, 5- and 7-Stud, the Omaha and 7-Stud with hi/lo variants, and with fixed, pot, and no-limit choices across virtually all. Lots of sit-and-gos, too, but for a site of this size, the multi-player tournament selection is rather paltry, and what is present is geared more to the high-end player than the nickel-dime-finback crowd.

For the most part, Party action is loo-oo-oo-oose at the micro- and small-limit levels. But Party also has a majority interest in North America's manic poker weirdos, which means that even a tight player's variance goes way, way up here, even when using a conservative approach to these very same games. I've had $100 swings playing the small stuff like .50/$1 and $1/2 fixed... and I play tighter than most. Strange, often maddening and ridiculous stuff. I'm reminded of Wilson's Turbo Texas software; one of its house characters for your simulated training games is a fellow named "Capp" who does just that, capping everything from pre-flop on as long as there's a chance to win... or just because a big pot looks nicer and seems like more fun. Sometimes on Party it seems as though the whole Capp clan is having a jamboree at your table. But as you'd expect, in the long run a decent player will do very well at Party or through its skins.

General plusses? A decent enough sign-on bonus, plus occasional --- and (as with the signup bonus) very easy-to-clear --- reload offers. Having a chunk of bankroll in reserve for when a Party reload bonus is issued is never a bad idea. At Party you'll find playable games around the clock, if that's your heart's desire, even in the wee hours when otherwise sane people would be fast asleep. Fast access to the cashier area, and usually to the web page that tracks your bonus offers in live time, or as close to it as is feasible.

If you're a new player, Party even provides you with special access to a "Beginner's Tables" section of the site, supposedly serving up easier competition for your first 45 days. A new player doesn't have to play these tables; they're just an extra option. I've noted no difference in skill level between these and the regular tables at the same stakes. I wonder if Party has a Beginner's section for new "bot" players, too?

Party also offers bad-beat, progressive-bad-beat and royal-flush jackpots, though these require you to play at tables where you're charged proportionately higher rake. I can't call this good or bad; it's a nice lottery bonus if you're the one lucky enough to collect the miracle six-figure pot, but other sites manage to offer equivalents to the smaller jackpots here... without charging extra rake for the privelege to try.

On the minus side, Party populates the poker table on your screen with a selection of truly sad avatars. With ten seats at a table, this means that only 10 male or female avatars are ever in use. It's always a white-bread convention at Party --- if you're of African, Asian, Latin American or Amerindian descent, you'll not find an avatar representing you here. Just some dude wearing a beret that looks rather more like a frisbee that his prankster buddy just pulled out of a microwave oven, and some cowboy dude in a hat whose face you never see. And if, like me, you're a girl, the options are even worse: With only a couple of exceptions, you'll end up as either a spinsterly schoolmarm or a bimbo. Most of the female avatars do, of course, "point" (in the Wonder Woman sense) to bimbo. But since the schoolmarm's hairdo looks like she's wearing a red-colored version of "Wilson the Volleyball" from Castaway, the bimbo look is probably still the better choice.

The quantity of tables and games at Party is so large that the front page of the site often gets a case of the yips trying to keep up with the data and the action. It translates into players often double-clicking on a table, seeking to join or watch, then discovering that the front page's table data has updated and shifted on the page as the user clicked, meaning that the table the user joined isn't even the one he or she wanted. This happens at least 10% of the time, in my experience, and since most of the tables are only identified by a number several digits in length, it's often not quick or easy to catch, either.

The software yips continue to the play itself, if you choose to try two or more tables at once. Multiple actions required? Then expect that the screens will battle for your attention, and these screens do not always recognize the mouse clicks or keystrokes that you make. So you might click three or four times instead of the normal two before a simple "Fold" action takes, or you might instead end up folding those rockets on a hand you hadn't yet had a chance to see. Sayonara, AA!

Cashiered again. Do you like using FirePay? I do, though I also have NETeller and other accounts. Party Poker accepts incoming deposits from FirePay, but doesn't allow you to cash out through the same channel. This is inane. Perhaps there are fee considerations between Party and FirePay, but then again, Party's not likely to care if FirePay's rival NETeller dings users 8.9% for accidentally doing an Insta-Cash withdrawal from their personal account, as a way of bringing money into the cycle to begin with. (Party does allow users to withdraw using NETeller, ho ho ho.) So what it means, in effect, is that you'll probably need two or more electronic-wallet accounts to use Party properly. Let the buyer beware.

Party has several "help" options available for its users, including a live-chat option that is absolutely never available. It's a tease --- don't bother! So I'll guess we'll chalk that one up as a negative, rather than a positive. Nice thought, though... And one last negative: While Party offers the usual selection of hand-history download options, its live player stats are all but worthless. No matter how many hands I've played, this pop-up screen adamantly tells me that I've won 100% of my showdown hands. If only!

Cashing in, cashing out: Faster than average, beginning with your second time through the loop. Bonus payouts are calculated in live time and are released almost instantaneously into your bankroll. That's a plus.

Plenty of action; looser-than-average games. All true --- proof positive that advertising works. But in 900-lb. gorilla, there's plenty of monkeyshines here, too. My final read: Enjoy the action, but be careful.

SITE REVIEW - PARADISE POKER

Back in my dumb old days, when I fancied myself a fair-to-middlin' poker player (though I'd never cracked open a book on the subject), my one and only online site to play at was Paradise Poker. I'd tried a couple of others, namely Party and Pacific, but Paradise ended up winning the largest share of my business. To my view, Paradise's software was slicker than the the others, they had a decent selection of tournaments and sit-'n'-gos, and I was actually able to turn a modest profit in my few hundred hours of play. Soft games, you say? Well, certainly, Paradise always has had some of the softer ring-game action around. Actually, if memory serves me, I spent most of my time playing seven-stud ring games, some pineapple (!) and occasional fixed-limit hold-'em sit-'n'-gos. (I'm from northern Wisconsin, you see; we come out of the womb up there knowing how to play cribbage and seven-card stud.)

Life events took me away from online poker for a while a couple of years ago. Since I wasn't that good, I didn't miss it. And when I returned to at least a semblance of active online poker-playing, there was Paradise, same as always. The prodigal son --- err, daughter --- had returned to the fold.

Or so it seemed. Today I don't play on Paradise much at all. How could that be? A combination of factors came into play, and despite the relative high quality of the site, it's clear that Paradise is resting on their laurels on reputation.

Paradise proclaims themselves as the oldest of the well-established sites, being around since Marco Polo brought back Chinese handcuffs from the Orient... or at least since 1997. Therefore, the logic goes, you should trust them with your dead prezzies. Paradise is trustworthy enough, in that respect; your deposits go in, your withdrawals come out (without, for the most part, lengthy delays), the sun sets in the west. All is copacetic.

And at Paradise, the more things change, the more they stay the same. There are large numbers of players to be found, including sizeable schools of fish; only during the wee hours will you have trouble finding a game that's comfortable for you to play. The software works well, too. Only occasionally does a lock-up occur, and that's as likely as not to be a problem with WinDoze, not the Paradise software. The graphics are stylish but not obtrusive, their cute "Refreshments" menu serves little purpose but is fun nonetheless, and the game play flows easily from hand to hand and table to table. My favorite drink avatar, should you be wondering, is the rum-and-coke; I've been far luckier with that at my seat that anything else. Not that I'm superstitious or anything, y'know...

So what's wrong? Just this: Until their recent "Million Dollar Freeroll" promotion --- not coincidentally, also the first time I'd seen a Paradise ad on the tube --- Paradise wasn't working very hard at expanding their customer base. They seemed to be quite happy with their 9.09% rake (or whatever), didn't offer a lot in sign-up offers and bonuses, and pretty much let the players be. I'm sure their customer base grew, but note that they're the oldest online poker site, not the largest. They could've done better.

As for attracting new customers, Paradise doesn't really go after the bonus whores among us. They offer a modest $25 sign-up bonus (requiring, if I recall, a $100 deposit), and they have occasional, not-very-lucrative reload offers. As more sites enter the fray, using more aggressive tactics to garner new players, Paradise risks becoming less imperative, perhaps even less relevant.

Which is, I suppose, the reason they went with the Million Dollar Freeroll promotion in the first place. Funny thing, though; it wasn't at all easy to track one's progress in earning a qualification to one of the entry satellites. You'd play and play and play, and --- presto! --- out of nowhere, a pop-up window would appear notifying you that you were again eligible to try to qualify for the main event. Glad you were tracking it for me, Paradise; I sure couldn't.

Oh, yeah, those interminable pop-up windows. Knock it off, Paradise. Whenever a larger tournament is about to commence, Paradise send pop-up windows to every online player, reminding them of the fact. Several times, usually, not to mention the sales pitches obliterating the usefulness of the chat window. "T minus three minutes and counting..." Well, fine. I'm still not joining your $250,000 Guaranteed with re-buys and add-ons, Paradise; check my bankroll before sending the damn pop-ups and you'd see I couldn't even afford the entry fee. And I mutter, under my breath, like that would stem the flood.

So what about this Million Dollar Freeroll thingy? Did anyone else take a look at the fine print? It turns out that Paradise is actually awarding only 3,400 of the 4,000 seats to the main event through the three daily play-in satellites. (I tried twice, made the top 60 both times, but crapped out just short of a seat to the big show.) But about those missing 600 seats --- it turns out that Paradise has reserved them to be used at their discretion to complete the lineup. Hmmm. That one continues to raise my eyebrows. Far be it from me to suspect that they'd privately sell some of these seats to top players for a nominal fee, knowing damn well that those better players would expect a lot of "dead money," relative to the million-dollar pool, to be present in the form of weaker players who lucked their way through the play-ins. Of course, there might be other explanations, though I really can't imagine Paradise giving away SIX HUNDRED COMPLIMENTARY FREAKIN' SEATS to poker media.

Po', po' cynical me. Figured another way, 600 of 4,000, times a million Georgies, equals $150,000. That's a chunk of expected value for those anonymous seats to carry. Got it. Either it's a helluva lot of "goodwill" asset padding, or it's a hidden way to recoup some expense.

Ah, well, back to the ring action. Being able to play pineapple is a definite plus, even if there isn't actually a lot of pineapple action from which to choose. Not only is it a fun variant, it's got high-profit potential as well. Pineapple entices those possessed by chase mentality, making for bigger pots; you'll see tons of people who start with junk like a two-suited 3-4-7 and play it hand after hand. "Bet it up, dude! It's a contrary investment opportunity!"

And, as mentioned, all the action is soft at the lower limits, not just the pineapple. Now that I've finally started to learn how to play this game, after thirty-plus years of dinking around, Paradise offers a lot of potential. And yet I find higher profit potential elsewhere --- so Paradise'll just have to wait.




Who Thinks Up These Table Names, Anyway?

Now there's a job that deserves to be on one of those Miller Brewing radio commercials, extolling the virtues of you, Mr. Underappreciated Paradise Poker Table Namer. You sweat it out, day after day, mixing those vowels and almost-Hawaiian consonants together in faintly exotic ways, coming up with names like "Barobas," "Kaluutu" and "Pelmonta" that might exist in reality or might not, if only we weren't too lazy to check. (Actually, they're all real, as far as I can tell. But this is piece is a satirical farce, so go with it.)

But look what you've started. Now, everybody's doing it; everybody, that is, except my local brick-and-mortar, which still uses designations like "number five".

Absolute uses a lot of generic-sounding street names instead of real and make-believe islands... not that Absolute's ever stolen any of your other gimmicks. FullTilt uses suburbs and subdivisions, because Ultimate Bet has the biggest city names locked up. (Although the capital city of the Philippines is not "Manilla".) And over at Prima they're even running out of servicable categories; they've gone through Beatles Song Titles, Names of Movies, Classic Books, Historical Figures... rumor has it that Medical Procedures and Parts of the Possum That Stick to the Tire Tread are the next ones in the works. God forbid any of you should stumble upon a Pantone color matcher --- or even a super-sized Crayola box --- and start drooling over exotic-sounding hues like Burnt Umber or Royal Mauve. And don't even think about touching an astronomical catalogue --- I don't think I could take it.