Friday, August 24, 2012

Vegas - My Biggest Poker Hand

A dry, scratchy sensation in your throat...

Wads of crumpled bills of varying denominations, in multiple pockets...

The overpowering stench of cigarette smoke radiating from your clothes...

Where else, but Las Vegas!

Last weekend my wife and I, along with her family, went out to Las Vegas for a few days.  It was the first time I had been since my bachelor party this year, and as you'd might expect, it was a much different trip.  (Less gambling, more time at the pool, and surprisingly, more strippers)

We stayed at the Paris, courtesy of a good friends & family rate, and had about as relaxing a trip as one can have in Las Vegas.  Lots of pool time in the August heat, but it wasn't a trip without stories, including one of my biggest gambling hands of all time...

Let's start with that first, because it's probably the most interesting story (at least the one I'll want to read later).

The family and I had been hanging out at the pool all day, and it was hot.  And when it's hot and I'm sitting around for an extended period, I tend to get a little bored.  It was our first full day in Las Vegas, and you could say I was a little antsy to get some gaming action.

So after bidding farewell to the family, I ventured off to find something to play.  I immediately thought about the poker tables at Bally's (as Paris doesn't have a poker room), and wondered if they had any sit-n-go tournaments starting.  I wandered through the Paris and through Bally's to their poker room.  Room is a pretty generous term as it's one of the smallest poker rooms on the strip, with only a few tables, but let's not forget it was connected to my hotel.

As I passed by, I saw three tables with action, two of them were full, and the third had maybe 5 players.  As I looked on, the poker room staff called out and asked if I wanted to play 1-2 no limit.

I did, but as I looked at the open table I saw that of the five players most of them had pretty large stacks in front of them.  I was only buying in for $160 and the last thing I wanted was to sit down with a couple huge stacks who would just push me around.

So I balked, telling them I didn't want to just down at a half-empty table.  They assured me it would fill up, but I was skeptical.  So I wandered around the casino floor, debating entry into their 4pm tournament (which was over an hour away).

After wandering the floor a bit (and practicing my card counting at a blackjack table), I finally got bored and realized that I didn't come all the way to Vegas not to play poker.

I went right back to the poker room and bought in at the 1-2 no limit table, and the staff was right, it did fill up.

I played for a little while, staying out of the fray as I got a read on the table (which didn't even force me to post when I sat down).  After winning one decent hand and staying out of dozens of others, I had one of the more interesting decisions to make...

I was one to the right of the dealer button as the hands were dealt, and I looked down to find pocket 10's, clubs and diamonds.  It was my first decent hand, so I immediately starting thinking about how much I could raise pre-flop.

Of course, I wouldn't get the chance to.  After at least a couple early calls, the player two seats to my right, an older man in his late 50's or early 60's raised to $10.  After a call from another older guy next to me, I called as well.  We were joined by at least two more (may have been three), as we went to the flop.  As I called, I knew that I was really just hoping for a set (three of a kind) and the chance to play a leading hand from late position.

I got my wish.  The flop came, the first card another 10, followed by the 2 of hearts and the 7 of hearts.

Marvelous, I thought.  Hitting a set, with no overcards and no easy way to a straight (unless someone called a $10 raise with 8-9 which I considered extremely unlikely).

The only thing that really concerned me were the two hearts on the board.  A third meant a potential flush for someone, and I really didn't want to get to a point where I had to guess if another guy had two hearts in his hand (And there were at least four other players in the hand, so it was certainly possible)

So the thing for me to do, in my view, was take the hand down now and don't let people draw on me.

Of course, there was also a problem.  I wasn't first to act.

The guy who was first to act, sitting across the table from me, was another older guy with a relatively large pile of chips.

He was first to act after the flop, and immediately bet out for 10 or 15 dollars.  The second player, who I had seen through earlier hands was a fairly aggressive one, called.  Action then moved to the third player in the hand, the guy who had originally raised before the flop.  He thought about it for a minute and announced he was going all-in.

I'm not sure how much he had left at the moment, but I think it was around $70 or so.

That was great news to me, because in thinking through the situation, he raised to $10 pre-flop and went all-in as soon as the flop hit.  To me, it was clear he had a high pair, Jacks or higher, and was trying to shut the hand down himself.  Poor timing for him, I thought.

But as I planned my move, the guy next to me, who was still in the hand, announced that he ALSO was going all-in, for even more money than the previous guy.

Now I was really excited.  Maybe he had an over pair too, but I was sure my hand was ahead of his too.

With all that money in the pot, I absolutely wanted to get the two other guys the hell OUT of the hand, figuring only a flush draw or a third card to match their overpairs could beat me.  So I announced a re-raise to $100 even.

But then the dealer stopped me and pointed out a rule I hadn't been aware of.  I wasn't allowed to re-raise them, either because they were all-in or because there had already been two raises that round.

That made me feel like an idiot a bit, but at least I still got to announce my intention to raise, which should've scared out the other two players right?

Wrong.  Well, half-wrong.

Action swung around to the first guy who immediately called, raising my suspicions.  He had bet out initially, but what could he have had that he wouldn't have initially raised pre-flop but called extremely large raises on?

The last remaining player did elect to fold, so at least one of the five of us was persuaded to drop.  But at this point as the dealer collected all the $5 and $1 chips in the betting, it was growing into a rather large pile at the center of the table.  With about $425 already on the table, it was pretty impressive looking (at least to a small buy-in guy like me).

So four of us were in the hand to see the turn card, and at this point all I need to do is avoid the flush draw and there's a good chance my cards hold up.

And then, as if through divine intervention, the eight of hearts arrived on the turn.  It arrived with a thud that was hopefully only audible in my head.

To make matters worse, the older man across the table immediately declared he was all-in.  And as the only one with any money left, it was on to me whether to call him or fold the hand.

Ay caramba.

I sat there, for what felt like the longest time (but in reality was probably only 30 seconds or so).  I worked to consider the possibilities, and immediately confirmed to myself that the guy had made his flush.  I confirmed that in my head, and it ticked the hell out of me.I had about $90 left of my initial buy-in, and this guy was going to make me fold it.

I thought about it some more.  I had seen this guy stay in with some loose hands, so it could absolutely be a flush draw that kept him around.  And his immediate push all-in once the eight of hearts hit wouldn't make sense otherwise.  Suddenly the three of a kind that I thought was going to pay me off big seemed like it would cost me and maybe turn me against the number 10 for the rest of my life.

I briefly thought about what it would be like to fold.  I'd lay it down, but then because the other two players were already all-in I'd at least get to see what he had.  That would confirm it at least, and if I was right, it would validate the painful but necessary lay-down.  Of course, then I wondered how I'd feel if I was wrong, and I did have the best hand after all.  It would've felt shitty, that's for sure.

I was torn between the two options when I finally got around to calculating the odds.  After all, there was still one more card to come out if I called the all-in.  And maybe he did have the flush, but I still had three of a kind, and in that case, all I'd need was either the last 10 in the deck, or one of the other three cards to get paired (i.e., a 2, 7, or 8).  Across all those options, that meant there were ten cards which would give me a hand that could beat a flush.

Doing the rough math in my head, those ten cards at a little over 2% chance of coming out a piece meant a had just over a 20% chance at getting the necessary card.

The pot had about $425, and the other player had just put me all in for my last $90.  With his $90 included, that meant I would have to bet $90 to win $515.  Better than five to one odds.  It had been a long time since I played poker, but I finally realized that the math worked!  I was supposed to call here!

So I did.

And shortly after I called, the other guy said, "All I need is the board to pair," as he flipped his cards over

I had trouble processing that for a second.  After all, pairing the board is what I needed to beat his flush!

Then I saw his cards, a 7 and an 8, neither of them hearts (obviously).

He had two pair against my three of a kind, he had never been close to a flush at all.

Of course, then the board did pair, with another 8.  Giving him a full house, eights over sevens.  But now I had tens over eights.  The board pair he wanted couldn't help him.

As quickly as the last card came, the other two players who were all-in in the hand mucked their cards, none too pleased at the result.  I wouldn't be happy if I were them either (although while I'm pretty sure the first guy had a high pair, I still have no idea what the second guy had).

But I really didn't care, the biggest cash game hand I'd ever played in was won, and the giant pile of chips in the middle of the table started to get swept my way.

It was fantastic, grabbing for all the chips, enveloping them in my arms.  I tried to savor the feeling, as most of the pots I drag never make it much past $20.  I tipped the dealer $15 off of what ended up being over $600 (in hindsight, that seems excessive, but I was high on life at the time, so I'll let it slide)

I played for another hour or so, getting into a couple hands but nothing nearly as serious, and ordering a few drinks from the bar as a mini-celebration.  When I cashed out and rejoined the family a little later, it was great to know that I had just about ensured I was going to end the trip on the plus side with my second biggest poker haul ever (the biggest being my last casino poker trip when I chopped the first place prize in a tournament, incidentally also at Bally's but in Atlantic City)

I wish I could go ask the nice people at Bally's for their security camera tapes, because I'd love video footage of my eyes bulging out of my head when the final cards were revealed.

It wasn't the only fun story to come out of our Vegas trip, don't even ask how many drifters my wife and I buried out in the desert (hint, how many in a baker's dozen?), but it certainly was the most lucrative

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Southwest Pre-Emptive Customer Service

Airline customer service is usually nothing to write home about.  It's not cable TV bad, but it also rarely impresses you.  And it makes sense, because most of the time when we buy plane tickets we're really just looking for the cheapest way to get where we're going and don't pick an airline based on other dimensions (like staff not treating you like total garbage)

So service might not be a huge deal to the airlines, but it's nice to at least get one experience that leaves you feeling like the company actually values your business.

I had an instance last week that I thought was particularly impressive.

Obviously since joining the consulting world, I've flown quite a bit with a variety of airlines, and there have been plenty of times when I've sat on a tarmac for extended periods.  Weather delays, maintenance, all kinds of things have occasionally conspired to keep me from getting home on a Thursday night.

But usually, when something like that happens, the very next day I'll write an email to the airline's customer service department for a formal complaint.

I keep things extremely nice and professionally-worded, like how I imagine a high-priced attorney would write out such a thing for me if I paid them a bunch.  I make sure it's very specific, calling out specific flight numbers, routes, and exactly what disappointed me.  Then I typically reiterate my level of business with the airline and how I could very easily switch carriers.  And then I send it off for what I hope will be a response that includes money for future flights.

The airlines are usually responsive if the situation is their fault (I still haven't asked an airline to reimburse me because of bad weather, because I have yet to fly on an airline with the power of God).  The responses range in terms of compensation, but they'll typically throw me a bone if nothing else.  At the high end I've gotten $100-$150 credits for future flights, and then at the low end there's American who gave me a couple thousand miles for two hours on the tarmac.

My wife has even extracted $150 for having a broken reading light.  So this thing definitely works, and apparently if you get the right service representative it can REALLY work.

But last week was the first instance of an airline actually reaching out to me BEFORE I even had the chance to complain.

My wife and I flew Southwest from Chicago to Philadelphia for the weekend to visit family, and then on the way back, we were stuck on the plane for a couple hours in Philadelphia. 

It was definitely not fun, as I'm sure you could imagine.

So I filed it away in my travel grievance memory bank, with the full intention of emailing Southwest the next day with my standard issue complaint template.

But then I work up to see the following email:

Greetings from Southwest Airlines:                          
The thunderstorms that came through the East Coast last night were rough, and I’m so sorry your flight got caught up in the middle of it before being able to depart from Philadelphia. On behalf of the Employees who were working with you yesterday at the gate and on the plane, I want to say “thank you” for your patience and cooperation throughout such a frustrating experience.
As a gesture of goodwill and a means of encouraging you to fly with us again, I’m sending a Southwest LUV Voucher*, which I invite you to use toward the purchase of a future reservation—I’m confident (weather permitting) that you’ll have the kind of ontime experience you’ve come to expect when you travel with Southwest Airlines. Your patronage is important to us, and we look forward to sharing the friendly skies with you again soon.


Later that week I got two vouchers (one for my wife and one for me), each for $75.  Could I complain about the low financial reward?  Maybe.  But honestly, this was completely out of the blue and as such, was a hugely positive surprise.

The amount, honestly, is a little immaterial.  What I thought was even more impressive was that they just did it without any prompting from me, and I've never had another airline do that when I've been stuck on their plane for an extended period.

So thanks Southwest, good to see someone cares about trying to keep the customers happy.